Scrabble, Soccer, and Victory Dances
April 24th, 2016
My husband won’t play Scrabble with me. Allegedly, I’m too competitive. My husband is not competitive at all and when we were first married, he made the mistake of losing to me on purpose a few times, thinking that might make me happy. He was so very wrong. I don’t just want to win, I want to conquer. It’s no fun if you haven’t earned your victory through intellectual mortal combat.
Now, he just doesn’t play with me at all.
My urge to compete is sometimes unrelated to whether I’m actually interested in the outcome. I compete just to compete. A few months ago, I went to a fundraiser at West T. Hill and they played a theater trivia game with the audience. If you answered a question right, you got a t-shirt. I didn’t really want the t-shirt, but I wanted to win, darn it. So when the emcee called out – “During what production does a helicopter land on stage?” – I could not physically restrain myself from flinging my hand into the air and shouting – “Miss Saigon!!!” I knew the answer. I had to share it. So now I have an extra t-shirt.
My competitive streak makes youth sports hard for me. When my kids play t-ball or soccer, my biggest goal is to be quiet. It’s very hard to be quiet while watching kid sports. Have you tried? Have you ever had the opportunity to sit on the sideline of a child’s soccer game? Oh lord have mercy, it’s an emotionally strenuous experience for a competitive person. There’s my daughter, blithely picking grass in the goalie box. Or chasing her friend instead of chasing the ball. It makes me twitch with the overwhelming desire to shout instructions at her. Pay attention! Go for the ball! Get it! GET IT!!! But that’s not my job. That’s her coach’s job. And he, bless his heart, is focused on the fun of the game, not the outcome.
Then there’s the problem of rule enforcement. We competitive types are very fond of rules. Everybody needs to play by the rules. That’s very important in our world. I’ve discovered that it’s less important in peewee soccer. Hand-balls often go un-penalized and there’s a certain looseness about whose turn it is to throw in the ball. This makes me crazy. But rationally I know that I do not want to be the parent shouting – “get your eyes checked, ref!” from the sidelines. I will not, under any circumstances, be That Parent.
So I just grit my teeth and wave at my daughter from my folding chair. Because I know my job, and it’s not to turn her into an Olympic athlete. My job is to give her high fives and juice boxes after the game and to ask what moments made her feel the most proud of herself. It’s my job braid her hair and tie her cleats and put sunscreen on her nose. It’s my job to help her love the experience of the game and to celebrate her teammates’ accomplishments as well as her own.
So I feign ignorance of how many goals her team scored or who ‘won’ the game. And when I beat her at Scrabble, I refrain from breaking out my victory dance. It’s hard – I have a pretty great victory dance – but these are the sacrifices we make for our children.