Last Monday, M and I attended a book discussion program at the middle school. We hadn’t been there long when one of the mothers smiled at me and said, “I hear you’ll be getting a turkey on Friday.” Umm, what? I didn’t know what she was talking about. I was told that after school on Friday there would be a Turkey Trot: three one-mile races, one per grade, and the first boy and girl in each grade would win a turkey. Before the evening was over, two more parents had told me that their children insisted that M was the sure winner. The next morning I asked her about the race. “Yeah, I’m getting a turkey,” she said, as if it were a fait accompli. Well, you don’t know that, I insisted. Are any of your friends running? She named a few girls and acknowledged “she’ll be competition, and maybe one or two others, but I’m faster.”
My daughter, the very soul of humility.
What’s peculiar about this is that she really isn’t a big runner. On the soccer field, she’s often beaten when it comes to sprinting down the field. And she doesn’t run regularly, although she’s been doing a bit more running lately as part of her quest to be super-awesome at soccer. She doesn’t really like to run, but she does like to win. She does better at longer distances, but much of her reputation as a speedster is because she actually puts in her best effort in gym class. Incidentally, that’s something I don’t recall doing, like, ever.
So, there was some pre-game hype. M went on a couple of runs after school as training. On Friday morning she said, “The race is supposed to be at 3:30, and we have to have someone pick us up, so you should come at 3:35 because I’ll be just about done by then.” I told her that I fully intended to arrive in time to watch the whole thing.
When I arrived, the first mom I ran into was a mother of the girl whom M had acknowledged would be some competition. She greeted me, “I hear M’s going to win this!” I laughed and murmured that I’d heard good things about her daughter’s chances, and a third mom I didn’t know said, “Oh, my daughter said that there’s this really fast girl who’s definitely got it all wrapped up–” at which point the first mom introduced me as the phenom’s mother.
The more I heard from people, the more tense I was getting. It just felt like coming in second at this point would be a major disappointment. I was envisioning one of those “agony of defeat” moments, like M would be on her last lap when she’d stumble and injure herself, losing the race and getting knocked out of soccer for the season. Because pride goeth before the fall and all of that.
Long story short, she won. The first three finishers were girls (the turkey-winning boy reported to a friend, “I won. In the boys’ division.”), and they were freakin’ adorable. They finished up and gave each other high fives and “nice jobs” and all-around and basically looked about five thousand times cooler than I was in middle school. It was lovely to behold.
Except that M ran so fast that she pretty much made herself sick. She and I were both expecting her to throw up right there on the field at any moment. She looked positively green. I suggested that she might want to go inside to the bathroom. Rejected: the bathrooms, connected to the locker rooms, were smelly enough, she claimed, to push her over the edge. She was also scantily clad. We parents were huddling in our coats and stamping our feet for warmth while many kids–my daughter included–were in their running shorts. I suggested heading into the gym, where many kids were gathering between races, and this, too, was rejected: too nauseatingly warm. So she spent ten minutes fighting off Making a Grotesque and Embarrassing Spectacle of Herself while people stopped by to congratulate M, then prescribe what M needed: some water, to go inside, another sweatshirt. It was the sort of kindness that gets irritating. Did all of these parents think that I hadn’t already tried to keep her warm, hydrated, and comfortable? For the record, I was right there. As soon as she could catch her breath M had said, “Mom, I want to go home,” but immediately afterwards a teacher told her to stick around to pose for a photo with her certificate. So we waited, she pushed through and faked a smile for the 45 seconds necessary, and then we scrammed.
The five-minute walk home, not-too-hot, not-too-cold atmosphere in the house, and a glass of room temperature water cured M. “Too bad,” I said, “It was pretty social up there. It’s a bummer you weren’t up for hanging out.” We looked at each other and headed for the door. I pointed out the conveniently-located fleece and warm-up clothes in the closet next to the door, but she had more important things to do than heed her mother. Her public was waiting.