Dead Last

You know those horribly annoying, boastful, make you want to get out of your car and rip the sticker right off their car bumper stickers that say, Proud Parent of a Fill In The Blank School_ Honor Student? (Unless it’s on your car. If it’s on your car, then gosh darn it I’m proud of your honor student too.) Well, I’m in the market for a bumper sticker that says Proud Parent of a Last Place Cross Country Runner. If anybody knows where I can find one of those, let me know.

            And I AM truly proud! My little Bianca – weighing-in at a whopping 35 pounds sopping wet, barely five-years-old – may have finished her first cross-country race in 58th place, but she finished! (My mom later told me that she was actually 58th out of 59 runners… but you get the point, she won’t be bringing home a trophy any time soon.)

            Bianca had just started kindergarten the week before, attending only one cross-country practice… So I set my expectations VERRRRRYYYY low for her first race. I mean, this is the kid who cried through her entire end-of-the-year preschool recital two years ago, stood behind the faux-tree backdrop during her dance recital in June, and burst into tears running off the mat after doing one move of her gymnastics routine during her competition just a few weeks ago.

            When we arrived at the meet, I knew things would go much smoother if I wasn’t around (Out of sight, Out of meltdown), so I left Bianca at the tent with her team and gave her specific instructions not to leave the TENT!!!! I thought I would go wait at the Finish Line where she wouldn’t see me.

            That plan worked perfectly until I realized I needed Bianca’s hand at the registration table to get her number. I began scanning for Bianca in the sea of ponytails as I approached the tent, but she was nowhere to be found! Trying not to panic I tried to remind myself what color shirt she was wearing…. Oh my God! I thought. That was the first piece of information that Dateline special I watched said parents needed to be vigilant about… Remember what your child is wearing in case they are abducted! What color was her shirt? What color was her shirt? (I have no idea why I couldn’t remember that she was wearing a hot pink tank top… Not five minutes prior to this mini-panic attack, Bianca and I had a ‘heated discussion’ about what shirt to wear while changing in the car. Bianca couldn’t understand why I would want her to wear a tank top in 87-degree heat?)

            I guess the fear read on my face, because one of the other parents told me that Bianca had gone looking for me. Perfect! That is exactly what I meant when I said do NOT leave the TENT!

            I found Bianca in the crowd, jerked her by the arm, knelt down where we were eye-to-eye and asked her, “What did I say when I left you with your team?!!!”

            “Not to leave the tent,” she whispered while looking down at the grass trying not to cry. (I mean, this is precisely the fun, calm, we’re only here to have a good time type of atmosphere I was trying to create for Bianca’s first race… Lovely!)

            We pulled ourselves together, got Bianca’s number written on her hand, and I once again left her with her team – this time to warm-up for their race. And once again, I walked closer to the Finish Line where she wouldn’t be distracted. I could still see the Start Line though, and I was so proud and excited watching my little girl warm-up her ankles, do walking lunges with her team, and wait at the Start Line.

            As the gun went off, I had such hopes for Bianca. And I’d be lying if I said I had no ulterior motive for introducing my daughter to this sport. No, as that gun went off I had a flash into the future of running marathons (or half marathons if my husband is reading this) together. I saw us going on training runs early Saturday mornings, heading out for breakfast after… I saw us cheering each other on at Mile 24 when we both wanted to quit… I saw myself getting to share my newfound love of running with my little girl…

            Then, as I saw the swarm of runners pass me I saw a poor little girl trip and fall to the ground… and just as I was about to feel really sorry for her, she popped up and kept trucking along like nothing happened… Good for you! I thought. And then… I saw what was left in the dust behind that swarm of runners, my little Bianca in a pile in the grass.

            OH NO!!!! I thought – trying to decide if I should drop my toddler and rush to her aide, or let her figure it out. Seconds seemed like minutes, but I could not have been more proud as I watched Bianca get up – while sobbing – and keep running. (Mind you, it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it looked very similar to the imfamous Phoebe run from that Friends episode where Rachel is embarrassed to be seen running through Central Park with Phoebe whose arms are flailing about like two noodles.)

            But she kept moving! She wasn’t happy. She was crying. And as she crossed the finish line she told me, “I HATE RUNNING!!!!” But she finished what she started. (Now, I have to make sure I don’t sound like one of those Toddlers & Tiaras parents – as Chuck loves to call it when he thinks I’m pushing Bianca to do something she doesn’t want to do. About five minutes after the race, when she’d forgotten about being upset about the fall, Bianca LOVED running once again.)

            Isn’t this a great metaphor for life? We will fall down. We won’t always finish first, or be the best, or win the award…But those wins and awards are not the things that define us. What defines us is how we react in those moments when life knocks us down. If we get up, dust ourselves off and Just Keep Swimming as Dory so prolifically encourages in Finding Nemo then we are ALWAYS a winner…even when we finish in last (or second-to-last) place.