The Winner Takes It All

My four year old really enjoys games.  And he plays to win. But sometimes the rules in his quest for success can get a bit troubling. Which is how I recently found myself turned into a dog while playing basketball in a bouncy house. As I crouched in the corner in the “stay” position that JayJay would command me into whenever I tried to move, he would shoot away, winning the game without ever landing a basket. Perhaps the most troubling part of all this: I barked and went along with it as other parents peered inside.

It’s easy to blame society. Sure, little kids get trophies and medals for every sport they do. Show up for whiffle ball, and there is a trophy bigger than your head waiting for you. Go to ice skating class and you get a patch to sew onto your coat (or, if you are my child, stick in a drawer waiting for the day your mother learns to sew). Attend a few Little Gym classes and your lopsided forward roll might just win you a gold medal bigger than any at Sochi. Everyone gets a medal, everyone is a winner. I even tried to smooth over a potential sibling rivalry hotspot after bowling this weekend by proclaiming Danny the gold medal winner, JayJay the silver and Annie the bronze. See, everyone wins, I said. You all get to stand on the podium. The kids were happy. Until JayJay realized I didn’t actually have a medal for him.

Sometimes I wonder if I should force JayJay to lose a few times. For my oldest, losing can still be a bit of a shock. He is even personally offended that the U.S. did not win the most medals at the Olympics. At nine, Danny is at the age when his sports teams don’t all get trophies, where play-offs are involved and even getting on a team isn’t a given. In general, he is a good sport when his team doesn’t win. He works hard for what he gets. He also knows that any grumblings of anything being unfair will result in him being benched by us for the next game. He really is a good sport and a team player. And I can’t take any credit for that.

I have let him win since the day he was born. Monopoly games, extra tries at bat, sneak peeks at Mad Libs. If there was a way to let that boy win, I would. He still tends to beat me at everything today, although sadly for me this is becoming less and less of an act on my part. He smokes me in swimming races to the point where they aren’t even fun for him. He legitimately beats me in board games. One of his biggest victories recently was beating me in Clue. So you can imagine Danny was feeling pretty confident when we started up a game of Clue at his aunt’s house today with his cousin Jenn, family friend Adam, myself and six-year-old sister Annie, who routinely gives away more clues than one would think humanly possible.

It was clear towards the end that Danny had the right answer and he was on his way back to the center to claim victory. And then, Adam swept in and stole it from him. It was like the air was sucked from the room. Danny didn’t cry or freak out, he just looked shocked. An adult (well, a twenty-something) had just beat him. He had almost won. But he hadn’t. As I watched his little face process it all, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for him. He had been so close. I was glad that he handled losing well. It proved to me that he was capable of doing so. But my instinct was still to somehow give him a do-over and let him win. That is probably coddling. But if your mother doesn’t coddle you a bit, who will?

And since I know Danny can handle not winning, I have decided to not feel guilty if occasionally I still let my biggest baby trounce me. My daughter has no need for such victories. She has already declared herself better looking and more fashionable than me—as well as pledged to never let her hair get as frizzy as mine apparently is. She doesn’t need a medal, she wears a tiara every day. But these boys of mine seem to bask in showing Mommy up. They want to show me how smart they are, how strong they are. They want to be adored. And in a world that is bound to let them down many times in the years to come, a little extra Mommy worship can’t hurt.

 So I’ll give JayJay the easy win at Busytown Airport (a game which isn’t even supposed to have a winner), at Ninja Turtle battles and slide races. I’ll offer Danny an extra roll at the bowling alley while insisting it is really just his third ball. Occasionally I’ll miscount the Monopoly money.

But even Mommy has to keep things real sometimes. I have one rule that I have stuck to from day one with all three.

Mommy shows no mercy at air hockey.

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