Heart, and the things they teach us

by Jennifer on March 14, 2008

hurdles.jpgToday was track and field day for grades 3-6 at school, which meant that the Boy (who’s in 3rd grade) would compete in four events of his choice. His picks were the dash, the long jump, tug-of-war, and hurdles.

His first event was the dash (50 yards, I think), early in the day. The 3rd and 4th graders were divided into groups, and each was assigned someone to race, though the point wasn’t really to race against each other, but to clock their best time.

Still, when two people are running alongside each other down marked lanes, and a person holding a stopwatch waits for them at the finish line? It’s a race.

Before the Boy’s turn, I walked down toward the finish line to try to get some pictures, and to see his effort from the best direction. When I looked back toward where he waited to race, I saw that he had been paired with a much taller boy. Yep, a 4th grader. Even though I knew they were competing against their own classmates, not each other, I started to worry for Boy. I didn’t want the other boy’s height and stride advantage to shake my son’s confidence. And I secretly hoped that the other kid really hated athletics, and had spent the last 47 Saturdays and every day after school playing video games. (Yeah, I know.)

At the signal, they were off, and my Boy kept pace with the older boy. Then, when they were about 3/4 of the way, Boy looked over at the other kid and saw that he was edging ahead a little. Determination crossed my son’s face, and he dug deep and pounded out those last yards with all he had.

And it was a tie. He, a 3rd grader, tied with a 4th grade boy.

He was excited. (I was, too.) After the other boy walked away, there were lots of a couple of high-fives. (I didn’t consider, until just now, that the other kid might have thought, “Well, crap, I tied with a 3rd grader.” Suddenly, I’m not sure I’m a nice person. Anyway. I’ll think about that later.)

I returned in the afternoon for his last event, the hurdles.

Before I continue, I should tell you that I’m not one of those parents who drags her child down to the ballpark to practice pitches in the light of car headlights (not saying that’s a bad thing). I won’t force a sport on my children, and I feel quite certain that if my son or daughter wants to try out for other sports (beyond soccer, which they both played this year), that they will express that wish and we will help them achieve it, as much as we can.

Earlier in the week, Boy tried out for the relay event for today and didn’t make the cut. And though he was disappointed, he had the attitude that he wanted to try again next year, and maybe he would be faster then. I think it’s healthy for children to realize that things require effort, and that not everyone is good at everything. The disappointment is part of it all. But so is running as fast as a 4th grader when you’re just in 3rd, if you’re lucky.

Back to the hurdles…

This time he was matched with a boy from his class. They got the signal and took off running. There were four hurdles ahead of them.

My son reached the first one, and jumped (leapt?) over it. Then, his foot caught, the hurdle fell, and so did he. He ate it, big. Arms and legs and shoulder and forehead hit the ground at once (fortunately, it was just grass). My breath stopped. My heart broke for him. Was he hurt? His time on the ground couldn’t have lasted more than a two seconds but seemed like a whole minute.

And then he got up. Without dusting himself off or shaking off the fall, he took off running. He cleared the last three hurdles with air to spare and finished the race. I met him at the finish line, along with his classmate and the time-keeper. He blinked back tears and rubbed his forehead. Are you okay? we all asked. He nodded.

“Do you want another chance to run the hurdles?” the other woman asked.

“No, thank you,” he answered.

Within a few moments, he had recovered completely, and sat down on the hillside with me. We talked and watched the rest of his class compete. “Look how well Michael is doing,” he pointed out. He had good thoughts for everyone, even after his own embarrassing moment.

Are these things harder on parents than they are on our children? My VBF posed that question when I called her from my car, after the events ended. The whole time I sat with the Boy, I wanted to cry, for him. Because I know that things like that are embarrassing, and I want to shield him from that. And, because I was moved. Without ever seeming to consider giving up for a second, he got up and finished the race. He never shed a tear over the whole thing, though I know if it had happened to me when I was in 3rd grade (or maybe last week), I would have needed a few moments to compose myself and to grab a shovel for digging a hole in the ground to hide in. But he was fine. (If he had cried or showed his disappointment or embarrassment, that would have been exactly right, too. But I admired how he rolled with it, and didn’t let it devastate him, as it would have me, at his age.)

So, yeah, I’m proud.

The boy has heart, I think.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

McSwain March 14, 2008 at 9:58 pm

Sounds like your son has lots of heart, and he’s someone to be proud of! I think that a lot of how kids feel when they miss a hurdle depends on their parents’ reactions. Because you didn’t berate him for a mistake, he was okay with himself. 🙂


flutter March 15, 2008 at 12:19 am

Hell yes he does, I do wonder, could he have gotten it from mom?


JCK March 15, 2008 at 12:38 am

I think these things ARE harder on us sometimes. Perhaps it is because we carry all of our old sorrows from all the years and bring them to the table. Our children’s table is smaller.

This boy of yours has mettle – as you do. And you are obviously teaching him good lessons.


Slow Panic March 15, 2008 at 5:10 am

the boy has heart. the trick for us is to create an environment where they don’t lose it…. that’s the trick.


cce March 15, 2008 at 5:39 am

Good stuff…there’s nothing like an elementary school sporting event to sort out the cry babies from the competitors and it’s totally obvious that you’ve got yourself a mature and determined son. I’m proud for you.

My third grader started swim team last summer….similar race scenario. Stop watches, all eyes on the pool, very stressful moment in his little life. And the first few races were unmitigated disasters. Last place finishes, ridicule, the works. But he dug in and finished the season and really improved his times and became competitive by the end. Just seeing him place second, third, fourth by summer’s end was such sweet victory for all of us.


Brenda March 15, 2008 at 6:47 am

Yes. WHAT heart!

There are some really good comments above here. I like what McSwain said about YOUR reaction being part of how he has learned to respond.

Also what Slow Panic said about making sure they don’t lose heart. That’s something I think/worry about all the time.

Learning how to deal with disappointment is good for everyone. I’m sure it’s much harder for the parents than the children… most of the time.


Angela March 15, 2008 at 7:25 am

He has heart. And I’m thinking he might have it because he wasn’t as embarassed as you think he might have been. Unless he’s been laughed at, pressured, torn down…he is resilient enough to fall hard and leap back up again. That’s what happens when you don’t practice by headlights. Kinda healthy. You should be proud. Of yourself.


Lisa Milton March 15, 2008 at 8:08 am

Nice big heart on such a boy – what a gift.


Crazycath March 15, 2008 at 8:52 am

Oh yes what heart! And from his mom I’d say. ;0)
It is heartbreaking to see your kids hurt, but like you I am so proud when they roll with it AND be nice to others to boot. No bitterness. No sulks.
What a boy.


Tootsie Farklepants March 15, 2008 at 9:13 am

I also would have been high fiving all over the place! What a big ol’ sweetie he is.


Sports Mama March 15, 2008 at 9:57 am

This post reached out to me on a familiar level. Ok, so all of your posts have touched me, but this is one I can so completely understand. Being the mom of two boys, both of them incredibly active athletes, I’ve been there/done that… watching them learn how to push themselves through a disappointment in one of their sports. And as amazing as they perform as often as they do, I think my proudest moments as their mom is watching how they handle themselves when a teammate or an opposing team simply does better than they did.

I think the hardest part of raising good athletes, is raising an athlete with good sportsmanship. But that quality is infinitely so much better than anything else they could bring to the team.

And since I’m apparently hijacking your comments, I’ll add one more thing. 🙂 My husband has been a coach for a large number of years now, and one of the first philosophies he shares with his teams at the start of each season:

We are building a Star Team, NOT a Team of Stars.

Kudos to your son for what looks like an instinctive knowledge of that concept.

Ok. I’ll go back to my corner now. 🙂


Suzanne March 15, 2008 at 1:00 pm

I joined our local swim team at the age of 11. I swam through high school and then got a scholarship to swim at university.

I have the most wonderful memories of going to swim meets with my father. I have friends that I met then, that I am still friends with now.

But one of the mot valuable things I learned from swimming is much like what your son experienced today….some days you will fall down, and your ability to get back up, get back into the race, and keep going is priceless and will serve you well for the rest of your life.

Sounds like your boy’s got the right stuff no matter what the future holds.

(and don’t ask me how you fall down in swimming…I know it’s an awkward metaphor, and if you keep harping on it I will be forced to leave this computer and go open a bottleof cranberry juice that is not only a great source of vitamin C, but a handy mixer.)


Daryl E March 15, 2008 at 1:02 pm

Yup. Heart ..and a good Mom.


Jenn @ Juggling Life March 15, 2008 at 2:25 pm

Sounds like he has both heart and spirit–a winning combination!


Lisa March 15, 2008 at 6:56 pm

A great mom and a great boy with a big heart!
Thanks for the great story!


slouching mom March 17, 2008 at 8:38 pm

yes. heart. he sounds lovely.


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