Dames and Disappointment

Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me,
I ain't the sharpest tool in the shed.
She was looking kind of dumb with her finger and her thumb, in the shape of an "L" on her forehead.
Smash Mouth

Everything I needed to know about being a loser, I learned in high school. At the time, I thought the losses I suffered would be the end of me, but they weren't. I lived to see another day, and now realize that, in the words of Green Day's Billie Joe, "there's nothing wrong with being a loser, it just depends on how good you are at it."

I have a daughter that's a natural athlete. As a youth, she excelled at every sport she attempted. We used to joke, that she was the son that Rick never had, for he too, was a natural athlete. When she was in school, we spent our afternoons, evenings and weekends shuttling her back and forth to softball, volleyball and basketball practices. Of course, we sat dutifully in the stands for years, cheering her and her teammates.

In elementary and junior high school, she participated in a league that required that each child have an equal an opportunity to participate on the field or court. It meant equal play-time for each participant.

The games in this league were scored, and there was a championship tournament at the end of each season. Standings in the tournament were based upon the teams' win/loss records, so winning was obviously, a desirable outcome of each match-up. The coaches were put in an impossible position, forced to bench the better athletes in favor of the less talented. Winning, ultimately required ingenuity or duplicity.

The equal play-time rule, was supposed to ensure that every child felt as though she had contributed equally to each games' outcome. It was supposed to safeguard against hurt feelings. I used to wonder what planet the people that ran that organization came from, for they certainly didn't live in this world.

The truth is, we may all be equally gifted, but we certainly don't all share the same talents. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try or how badly we want to succeed at something, we fail. That's life! We're better off learning how to deal with disappointment, failure and rejection early on, so that we're prepared for what unexpectedly comes our way as adults.

When I was sixteen, I had my heart set on being a pom-pom girl, also known as a Lahser Dame. My best friend and I tried out as a team. If I remember correctly, we were supposed to do a routine to the Bread song, Down On My Knees. I was sitting in a bank recently, when I realized that song was playing in the background. Even after all these years, I felt my stomach tighten.

We spent hours practicing in my friend's living room. I loved dancing and was fairly athletic, but I remember thinking at the time, that the whole thing seemed a bit easier for my girlfriend. She seemed so much more confident, had natural rhythm and caught on to the movements more quickly. When we did the routine together, side by side, I felt a little off. I should have realized that my instincts were right and withdrawn from the competition, but I didn't. I was going to will myself to make it.

The day of the try-outs, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. What if I wasn't selected? All of my girlfriends were trying out, and they were all very good. If I didn't make it, and they all did, life as I knew it would cease to exist. At least, that's what I thought at the time.

My best friend's sister, a senior member of the squad, delivered the bad news. My worst fears were realized and I was humiliated. When I got home, I went directly to my room, threw myself on my bed, and buried my face in my pillow. I honestly didn't know how I was going to get up and go to school the next day.

It was a while before my mother entered the room. I remember her sitting on the edge of my bed. She was sympathetic, but not overly solicitous. In a rather matter-of-fact manner, she asked me to consider, what is this in the face of eternity? Was she kidding? I didn't know, nor did I care.

When I didn't respond, she asked me again, what is this in the face of eternity? The second time around, she got my attention. I sat up, blew my nose, and we talked.

I imagine I must have gone on feeling sorry for myself for sometime after that night, but I honestly don't remember. What sticks with me most, are the words my mom repeated. Because of Mom and her wisdom, I learned how to put that loss, into perspective.

A year later, I decided to run for a position on the student council. I had a really good chance of being elected. My only competition, was a student that, for lack of a better description, walked on the wild-side. He was a very unlikely candidate for student government.

Much to my chagrin, the unlikely candidate was swept into office on a groundswell of popular support. I remember sitting in my seat in the last class of the day, when the election results were announced. Rather than climbing under the desk, I sat there with dignity, the color rising in my cheeks. When the bell rang, we all got up and left the room. Nobody said a word to me about the election. Nobody really cared, I thought, so why should I? Life went on.

The summer before my senior year, I met the man that would become my husband. He was a sophomore at the University of Michigan, and he traveled home from school every weekend to sit with me at football and basketball games, while my best friends with their black and gold pom-poms entertained the crowd.

I've often thought about the way my mother handled my loss and disappointment. She could have thrown her arms around me, cried, and coddled me in my despair. She could have said all the things that I thought I wanted to hear, but knew were untrue. Instead, she took advantage of a teachable moment to build my character.

No comments:

Post a Comment