Sunday, June 7, 2009
Second Grade Victories
My boy had a tough life lesson this week.
When you're in second grade life ain't so bad. When you're the youngest (by far) of four children, life can be pretty darn good. Mom still snuggles you like a baby when fatigue crashes over your worn out body at the end of the day. Big kids let you (sometimes even willingly) tag along on their great long bike rides and hikes through the woods. School stress means reviewing spelling words on the bus ride to school every Friday. The hard stuff hasn't really hit yet.
But just when you don't see it coming, hard life lessons can rear their ugly head. The stuff that breaks your heart and crushes your innocent soul.
Every year the big event in my second grader's life is field day. With fast older brothers (one on the high school track team) he understands the whole concept of a race. He won his kindergarten field day lap around the track when most of the other participants stopped to pick flowers along the way or couldn't figure out what all those bright orange cones were for.
Then first grade rolled around and he thought he was a shoe in once again. Until his shoe fell off. Mid race. Not good. He had to settle for a third place ribbon. Downright humbling.
So this year was important. Redemption and all that. He watched his classmates at recess. He knew who was fast and who wasn't. He studied his competition. He discussed racing strategy with big brother and took timed runs down the street in front of our house. The weeks flew by and he was ready. Ready to claim that blue ribbon once and for all.
It was just frosting on the cake that grandpa and grandma came out to visit from Missouri on the exact right weekend. More witnesses for his big victory.
His class marched on the field on that sunny Monday morning and my boy was ready. He had on his carefully selected running outfit, freshly washed by mom for just this occasion. He had on his tightly laced running shoes. No room for error here.
Finally it was time. He and seven other second grade boys lined up and listened to starting gate instructions. At the word "GO!" he was off.
He darted around the first corner, and then the second, easily the head of the pack. Across the long backfield two other boys started to gain on him. He glanced back, saw their shadows and pushed harder. Still in the lead he headed around the third corner and then the fourth.
But the kid in second was not ready to give up this race. He seemed as determined as my boy and at the fourth turn he made his move. The only problem was, he decided to cut into the lead on the inside and there was no space between my boy and that orange cone.
Feet got tangled, and as time stood still, my boy went down.
He rolled and popped back up. But his momentum was gone. The other boy shot off like a flash and headed for the finish line. Another boy raced after him to get second place. And my boy, after jumping up from his grassy roll, as able to cross that line in third place, still beating the rest of the pack.
But it was not enough. This was supposed to be his race. He made sure his shoes fit well and his body was in shape. He was ready for that blue ribbon. But it was not meant to be.
It was not something my boy had even considered, coming in third. As I approached him on the field a few minutes later I leaned over to hug him and he melted into my chest. Then came the sobs. My serious, grown up big boy had a crushed heart and didn't know what to do with all this emotional pain.
As he heaved as quietly as he could into my chest I whispered into his ear. "You did a great job, sweetie....I'm so proud of you....you were ahead the whole time....you did great....I'm so sorry you got tripped up....but you did so great..."
He finally collected himself and trotted his defeated shoulders over to the field events. A few minutes later, having harnessed all that frustration into a long lunge forward, he broke the school record for second grade standing long jump - by 9 inches. But the long jump was not what he wanted. A blue ribbon wasn't just a blue ribbon. The race was his goal and it was over. It was over and he hadn't won.
I texted all the big kids so that they'd know before they got home. We'd all been encouraging him and rooting for him as he went after this goal. They each encouraged him in their own way once day time activities led us all home.
That night at bedtime I found him buried under the covers of my bed, again sobbing to himself. It was all just too much to handle. It was over. It would be another year before he got another chance. He wasn't done crying out the frustration.
I held him for a bit then Track Star Brother walked into the room and took over. He rubbed Sam's back and gave encouraging words. It was a site that makes all the stress of raising kids worthwhile. Big brother reaching out so lovingly to little bro. By the time he laid his head down to sleep my boy was done. Done grieving for a race that was not to be his.
And as I laid down to go to sleep I realized it was just the beginning. My youngest child had entered the world of big kid disappointments. I could no longer protect him from the yukky stuff in life. I couldn't make it all better. He has to live it. He has to feel it. When it feels good and when it feels downright awful. It's all a part of growing up. And sometimes it really stinks.