When I was a kid, I would go over to my friend Andy's house and be amazed at all his trophies. He had a bunch for baseball and football and soccer. When I was a bit older, I was in awe of my friend Chris's trophies for football, basketball and bowling - yes he bowls. Really, most of my friends have had collections of trophies that they won in everything from soccer to ballroom dancing. I never got a trophy. Or rather, I never got a "First Place" trophy.
I did have a few successes though. I won second place in a regional science fair. That was awesome! My little league team came in second place in the championship game that I didn't even play in because it was on a Sunday. They brought me my tiny trophy at the end-of-the-season picnic. More recently, I helped with a student film that won second place at the Emmys (which still means that we won an Emmy). I'm comfortable with second place.
If you think about it though, who is the better athlete in the Olympics? The guy who wins one gold medal in one event (and no other medals), or the guy who wins 5 silver medals in 5 events? I say second place!
Remember Super Mario Brothers 2? That was the first one where you could choose between Mario, Luigi, Toad, Princess Peach. They each had special talents; Princess Peach could jump further than any of the others, Mario jumped further than everyone else. Luigi jumped higher than the others, Mario jumped higher than everyone else. Toad was the fastest, Mario was second fastest. Mario was second best at everything - which made him the best overall. It's not called Super Luigi Brothers.
So, like I said, I feel comfortable with second place. Well at least I used to be comfortable with second place.
Things have changed.
This past Saturday, the day before Halloween, My daughter Mia ran her first race. It was a 1k, which is just over half a mile. It was a race for kids ages 6-12. Mia is 6.
Let me pause for a moment to explain Mia for those who don't know her. She is stubborn. She hates to lose. We have been working with her to understand that it's not important whether you win or lose, but only that you have fun. It's the Playing of the game that's fun. Winning is just a bit of frosting on top. She's been trying hard to remember to have fun with the playing, but losing is still hard for her. Even when it's just for herself. A classic illustration of her stubborn personality is when she was trying to learn to jumprope. She was standing in the driveway crying so hard, growling in frustration that she couldn't get it right. I offered to help, and she yelled at me to leave her alone. Rather than give up - or even take a break - she just kept trying and trying until she finally got it - tears and all!
With that in mind, Valerie and I prepared her for her upcoming race. We gave her the wonderful parental encouragement that she might not win. We prepared her as much as we could so she could handle her loss well and have fun anyway. She seemed prepared to handle her inevitable loss against kids who were bigger than her. But then she saw them handing out the trophies for the race before hers. She was mezmorized by them. She said to me, "Dad, I want one of those." Oh Great. It broke my heart a bit. I told her that if she ran her hardest, she might get one, but that she shouldn't be sad if she didn't.
She ran her race. She took off like lightning, weaving through all the bigger boys to try to get out front. Then the trail went down a hill and Xander and I waited for the racers to get half way, turn around and race back. We waited for the sign of all the bobbing heads of the bigger boys to signal that Mia would be showing up soon.
Finally, I saw one. A 10 year old boy was racing toward us. I looked behind him but saw no sign of other bobbing heads. I looked down to tell Xander that Mia would be coming in a few minutes. When I looked up, I saw Mia come up over the hill! She was so small I didn't see her bobbing head earlier. The next thing I noticed was that there was no other kinds anywhere near her.
I yelled for her to run as fast as she could. She sprinted across the finish line in 4:57. Not only had she come in FIRST PLACE among the girls, but she had only been beaten by ONE boy who was several years older than her.
I was so proud of her when she got her FIRST PLACE trophy! She was in heaven! She asked Valerie if this was just a dream. She was so happy all day. She carried her trophy everywhere with her.
This is when I changed my mind about second place. I realized that even though I never won a first place trophy before, I could do it now - through my kids! All I have to do is wake Mia up every morning at 4am to run drills. I'll get a whistle and a stop watch and time her at everything she does. I'll never prepare her to handle losing gracefully, but to handle it shamefully. I'll constantly remind her that she isn't fast enough yet. She'll win every race she enters if she doesn't want to be grounded from going to school or having friends. We'll have to buy a huge trophy case to hold all her gold! When she's old enough, I'll arrange her marriage to a lean African man - probably a world record holder. The genetics will surely produce inhumanly fast offspring. That's the way it works with horses anyway.
I bet my other kids are good a something too. I should decide now what I want them to be good at so I can start their training. I bet Zoey is old enough to start learning competitive archery! I'll start Xander in the weight room tomorrow so we can get him in shape for the NFL, NHL and MLB. Maybe I can get him genetically modified to make him taller for the NBA! I'm sure I have some contacts that will get CJ into hollywood! I expect to see her face on the cover of "Bop!" by next year. I will get furious at every little league game and yell at the umpires! I'll throw chairs onto the field during pee-wee football games if a bad call is made against my kid! I will be - I mean - my kids will be so famous that we will get our own reality TV show!
Bahh! Whoever thought having fun was the most important thing obviously never won anything! And as for Mario - just wait until they come out with a "Mario's Offspring" game in which all his kids dominate everyone else!
So I'm taking applications now for prospective mates for my children who are guaranteed to have earned lot's of first place trophies by marrying age. Fun will have been torn out of them, so you can count on highly competitive automatons. Second place or below need not apply.