Over the years I’ve grown accustomed to ‘reframing’ some of the difficult traits my boys possess. They’re not stubborn, they’re tenacious. Those aren’t tantrums, those are displays of competitive fire and passion. It’s pretty obvious I can’t change who they are, so I might as well use creative vocabulary words to downplay their more challenging aspects.
This is all well and good but I’m at a point now that I’m ready for them to play something competitive without it seeming like a life or death situation. It’s inevitable that anytime they play a sport with family or friends, one of my boys will storm off, argue or just plain give up. I don’t get it. When I was younger, I remember being able to play games with friends without completely losing my mind if I lost. If I played a team sport, I often felt bad for the other team if we beat them. My children are the complete opposite. They both have a win-at-all-costs attitude.
Sometimes, managing their fierce attitudes about competition is enough to drive me nuts. What I meant to say is enough to solidify my boundaries of sanity in a consciousness-expanding, patience-growing, sort of way.
We are finally home from a ten-day trip. We had an awesome time in Pigeon Forge, TN. Here are a few things I learned:
1. Directions in unfamiliar territory seem to be a hot-button issue in my marriage. I don’t know what it is about not knowing where you are at that brings out the worst in me and my beloved. Regardless of a few tense moments, we always managed to reach our destination. For the most part, we also managed to still love each other even if we didn’t always like each other in the process.
2. Spending time with my nieces and nephew was fantastic. If I had it my way, I would have all my nieces and nephews live on my street and have them over as much as possible.
3. No matter where you put my boys, they are in a constant competition with life and each other. They had an hour-long debate over who came in first in a go-cart race. If I thought Mad Dog and I were heated over directions, it was nothing compared to the constant chatter of winner vs. loser between our boys. And, unfortunately, they never ever agreed to disagree. Made for some long rides back to our cabin.
4. So, their competitive streak has its downside, but surprisingly, it also has an immense upside. We were at Dixie Stampede which is Dolly Parton’s dinner attraction. The boys were selected by our server to be in a chicken chasing competition. They strategized from the moment they were selected. Full Speed instructed T.Puzzle where and how to run. T.Puzzle was overwhelmed at first by the enormity of the arena and the crowd. He stood quaking at the side of the gate right before they were sent in. Once inside the big, gaping, dust-covered space, he looked at Full Speed and they both got that look of determination on their faces. When the chickens were released, theirs didn’t stand a chance. Full Speed ran so intensely after it he fell down nearly crushing the chicken. They worked as a team and ran with such fire, the other two boys on the opposing side looked as if they were moving in slow-motion. Even after they successfully crossed the finish line, T.Puzzle kept chasing his chicken. He almost ran it all the way back to where the rest of show animals were being housed.
I may get frustrated by the intensity of my boys, but I have to say, seeing them give their all in everything they do, even chasing a chicken, keeps me inspired to always do my best.
In recent months I have made the conscious choice to try to see the bright side of parenting. Most days I do a pretty good job of staying positive and counting my blessings. And, most days my boys give me plenty of reasons to do so. This weekend however, I couldn’t muster the strength to keep this positivity thing going. I live in a culture of competition. Literally, everything is a competition. My boys can turn the art of teeth brushing into a competitive sport. Combine this with the way they handle losing (badly is putting it extremely mildly) and it’s a lot to handle. And let’s just say Mad Dog’s win-at-all-costs mentality only seems to stoke my boys’ fire. When a family trivia game turned into an all-out meltdown, I was about ready to throw in the towel. In that moment of seeing Full Speed rage about not knowing an answer to a question, it made me realize finding something positive was going to be a real challenge for me.
If I’ve learned anything over the past years it’s that winners don’t quit. We may get knocked down, we may have our dreams of a quiet family game night dashed, but we always get back up, get that game board back out and throw down.
There is something maddening about playing cul-de-sac soccer with Mad Dog. He brings out the competitive fire in everyone, even former social workers like me. Sure, I have no problem letting T.Puzzle score a goal on me here and there, but I would sooner give up wine and chocolate than let Mad Dog score a goal. I can’t stand it.
I’m not the only one he affects this way. We had friends over yesterday for our usual Saturday cul-de-sac soccer rumble, and they felt the same way about him. He’s out for blood. You rest or take your eyes off him for a moment and he attacks. Soon, you lose track of yourself entirely. You start kicking the ball as hard as you can, sacrificing your body in ways you no longer thought your middle-aged body can handle (and in reality, really can’t) and fire off shots that sometimes hit your own off-spring in injurious ways (sorry, T.Puzzle, hope your face is better).
I dare you. Play one game against him and logic will leave you.
You also will have the time of your life (please don’t tell him I said that).
Full Speed is an extremely stubborn boy. It is only recently that I can play any sort of game with him and it doesn’t end in him melting down if he loses. Well, most of the time anyway.
It’s nice that Full Speed has evolved away from some of this tantrum-ing in competition. The one area that Full Speed has shown zero to little improvement in competitive meltdowns is when he is playing anything against Mad Dog. Our theory is Full Speed’s belief system. In everything else, Full Speed has a fundamental belief that he can dominate so he powers through. When up against Mad Dog, he understands that his Dad is stronger and faster so he gives up in frustration quite easily. He feels hopeless so he acts hopeless. It ain’t pretty.
I don’t think the answer lies in having Mad Dog let Full Speed win all the time. Life doesn’t work that way. However, I do believe that I should be given at least one hour notice before they play anything against each other. That way I have plenty of time to find a more pleasant alternative to view.