Yesterday was Olympics Day at my son’s school. It’s one of the highlights of the year. There were relay races, a concession stand, and lots of talking and milling about. The school managed to take approximately 600 fourth and fifth graders and create an organized day of fun and games. The teacher in charge was able to quiet an entire gymnasium of chatty children simply by raising his hand in the air. I can’t even make five kids shut up without yelling until I’m blue in the face.
Mikey loves Olympics Day. He talks about it for two weeks before and envisions his class winning every race and himself an integral part of the victory. To say he’s competitive is a gross understatement. He insisted I be there to watch. I arrived just as the gym teacher was laying down the ground rules. Of course, she reminded everyone that the goal of the day is FUN, not winning. I was bracing for the statement “We’re all winners” but, thankfully, it didn’t come. Instead, the idea of good sportsmanship in the face of losing was emphasized. It seems I live in one of the few areas of the country that still recognizes the character-building that comes with failure. It’s a lesson my children need to learn. As of now, they pout, cry, and get really angry when they lose. Their favorite reaction? “He/She/They cheated!” Ah, me.
After the rules were read, the children lined up for the relay races. Each race had a team of 10 from each homeroom. Everyone had to sign up for at least two events. The first race began. The boys were going at it as if their lives depended on it. They were intense, fast, and pumped up. The girls took a different approach. They giggled, they sauntered instead of ran, and they stopped dead in their tracks to adjust their clothes or ponytail or to cover their faces in embarrassment. Their natural instinct to travel in packs didn’t help matters, either. A successful relay team should stagger the skill levels of its members, but the infinitely slower and more reluctant girls were grouped at the end of the line. Basically, the team with the silliest girls were destined to lose. Of course, Mikey’s team had an inordinate amount of this cute-as-a-button-completely-useless-as-a-relay-team-member contingent. They lost and they lost big. Twice. I watched Mikey closely. His reaction? “I am VERY ANGRY.” He was using his words.
Then it was time for the final race–the Olympic Rings Relay. The teams divided into groups of five at each end of the relay lane. In the middle of the lane was a bucket of mason jar lids with numbers taped to them along with 10 labeled with the Olympic Rings. The object was to search through the bucket, find the coveted Ring lid, and run to the other end of the lane and release the next person. Mikey was at the end of the line and he couldn’t find the stupid lid with the rings on it. They lost, but this time it was HIS fault. He forgot how to use his words. He started crying instead.
Mikey crying when he loses is an interesting thing to see. He doesn’t just let loose. He prefers to build up to it slowly. First, his face registers anger, flushing crimson with eyes flashing. Then his lips begin to quiver. He fights for control but can’t manage it before the tears come. The battle between anger, acceptance, and devastation plays out on his face as he tries to talk himself down. He complains (the lids were sticking together!), criticizes himself (I’m not good at ANYTHING!), deliberates (It’s just a game), and apologizes (I’m sorry I’m upset). He oscillates between restraint and turmoil.
I was watching from the sidelines, deciding what to do. I knew that if I talked to him, the crying would get worse. His teacher was standing beside me with a look on her face which I assume mirrored my own–indecision. Then the decision was made, but not by either one of us.
A boy sitting beside Mikey put his arm around Mikey’s shoulder. He began talking to Mikey with a genuine look of concern on his face. I let out an audible sigh. The teacher looked at me and said, “That boy is one of the popular kids.” Thinking I might not understand the importance of that fact, she started to explain. I stopped her with a hand on the arm and a muttered, “Yeah, I know.” We turned our attention to the quiet scene taking place amid the chaos of 300 screaming 11-year-olds.
The boy was comforting my son–the kid who was having a mini-meltdown over a relay race. He was patting Mikey on the shoulder and talking to him about God knows what when other kids started to notice. They turned their attention to Mikey and they were comforting him, too. Once Mikey stopped crying, the boy removed his arm but still included Mikey in the conversation until it was time to line up for lunch. He had enabled Mikey to get through the drama with his dignity in tact. That boy is my hero.
It’s very difficult to find a positive news story about today’s youth. The consensus is that they’re a bunch of ignorant, under-achieving, lazy, video-game obsessed bullies with a skewed sense of entitlement. Well, judging by what I witnessed yesterday, this simply isn’t true. It would be nice to see the good kids portrayed in the media from time to time. This is my small contribution.
What about you? Do you have a “good kid” story to share?
“Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.” ~Lady Bird Johnson