I don’t think of myself as a competitive person, but sometimes an event happens that awakens my elbow-jabbing evil twin who will do everything in her power to win—or to at least not come in last place.
For the past few months, I’ve been hanging out with my eight-year old friend Mackenzie on Friday afternoons. I arrive at Dana Gray 25 minutes before dismissal so I can participate with her class in the 1.60-mile walk led by her teacher.
Since third graders have only 75% of my leg stride, I thought the teacher would conduct a leisurely stroll. But Mrs. C-K doesn’t cut these shorties any slack. She sets a vivo tempo.
In order to keep up, the kids and I have to focus. But we’re easily distracted by endless chatter and my surrounding group rarely pays attention, which often creates gaps between us and the rest of the students and requires jogging stints to catch up.
One day, a girl said, “We got a dog.”
“I’m so happy for you. What kind?”
“I love golden retrievers. What’s his name?”
“Buddy. He’s 12 years old.”
Wow, that’s setting her up for early heartache—adopt a dog whose finite number of days is going to arrive sooner than later.
“My mom broke up with my dad so we got a dog.”
I’ve met her dad. A 12-year old golden retriever is a fair trade.
I take position toward the back of the line so I can keep a watchful eye on the group of students between the teacher and myself. This puts me next to a boy with a running litany of complaints—he ate too much at lunch and has a side ache; he’s hot and has a headache; he has a cramp in his leg; his shoe keeps coming untied. I suspect the worst parts of his week are these mandatory walks.
Recently, Mrs. C-K has shaken things up by leading the class to the high school track and challenging them to complete six laps.
When Mackenzie informed me of this change, I relished the opportunity to strut my stuff on the track. After all, I did compete in one triathlon and didn’t die or come in last place.
(Okay, so I finished something like 500 out of 503. I’m prepared to do better next time which, God willing, there will never be a next time. Also, the competition wasn’t open to third graders. If it had been, I might have made a better showing.)
I’m no stranger to running—I jog two to three miles a couple of times a week on the treadmill at the gym. (I can barely walk afterwards, but hey, all I have to do is make it to my car and drive home.)
It is truly amazing how fast a third grader can run when unleashed on a track and given a goal. I quickly found myself in the caboose section with you-know-who. He was having a heat stroke. He should have stayed home from school. He wanted to call his mother.
“You can do six laps. I know you can,” I said.
He wasn’t convinced.
“I’m 100 years older than you. If I can do it, you can do it.” (The product of mid-century parenting, I’m sometimes triggered to exploit shame as a motivating force.)
While impressed that I’m 108, he didn’t move any faster. I gave up and joined a group of girls who appeared to take the challenge seriously.
The girls and I high-fived a vow to complete six laps.
Lap four took one of the girls out. Lap five took out two more. I felt betrayed.
When time was called, the kids compared slash marks the teacher had placed on their hands with scented marker each time they completed a lap. My complainer friend—who had only finished four laps—said his hand smelled so good he wanted to eat it.
All but five of the kids had finished their six laps long before me and a couple had managed seven. One girl completed eight.
Limping back to Dana Gray, I determined that I would have made a better showing if I hadn’t been held back by Complainer Boy. Also, I hadn’t dressed for running—I was in jeans and had not worn my best running shoes. The burrito I ate for lunch didn’t help.