She skates away from me toward the far end of the ice, a tiny doll dressed in sparkly teal and purple costume. Spindly legs swathed in nude-coloured nylon extend from the white boots on her feet. I stand behind the glass and wait with her, wait expectantly for the music to begin. She is poised and ready. I lean over to get a better view. The familiar strains begin to play on the tinny sound system, and I hum along. I strain to catch her if she falls, as ridiculous as that is from my vantage point. It is a relief to see her heading toward center ice, signalling to me that her routine is half over. I wait for a pick to catch on the ice. It never does. In fact, this is one of the best skates I have seen from her this year. I hold my breath as she enters the final turn. She holds her stance and smiles. It is finished. I exhale.
She glides off the ice, all smiles. I am beaming. So proud, I am. I tell her so. I try not to boost her expectations, but I am so relieved she never fell this time that I say it. “You did your best skate yet this year, “ I gush. She seems to exude confidence, now that the pressure is off. I know she thinks this was one of her best too.
We wait on the stands, and watch the pairs dance to the Dutch Waltz. My husband smiles at me and then mouths that he thinks she will probably place first, second or third, and that we will be here at the rink for a while yet. We both exchange chuckles over the fact that a 4th place standing would be the best scenario, and we could make a quicker exit. With award presentations still two hours away, fourth would be the ideal situation. She would still feel pleased with her standing, and we would be proud regardless. In addition, we could get on the road and head for home just a wee bit earlier than expected, thus able to enjoy more of this beautiful, Sunday afternoon. I find myself looking over towards the hallway where the results are posted. I lean over and tell my husband that I am going down to check.
I am standing in the main hallway where the results are soon to be posted, and I turn to see the scoring technician with papers in her hand. It is only a matter of seconds now. I try not to appear too interested in those results she carries, as I don’t want to be seen as “one of those parents.” But, I get close enough to the wall to read the results.
I scan the page, a bit dumb-founded. Not only has she not placed fourth, she is ranked 7th. I re-read the standing to be sure I have got this straight. Yes, she is 7th place. I breathe deeply, then wrack my brain for some easy way to deliver the news to her. Then, I go to my waiting family on the stands.
She is visibly upset as she reads the writing on the wall. “You had my expectations up, “ she says disappointedly. I am dumb-founded. Did I really lead her to believe she would win?
I try to re-assure her that she did her very best and that is all that matters, but it will take time for her to believe this to be true. She looks deflated. I tell her that we are proud of her, and I try to think of many other wise things to say. I know I cannot win her over with my words or opinion, and this won’t end happy until she is ready to let the disappointment go.
I wonder how it is that we support our children in their endeavours. We want them to fly free and unobstructed, able to soar on the wings of confidence and courage. We want them to believe in themselves and their abilities, yet we must balance their expectations with a liberal dose of real-life practicality. Life is not always fair. We cannot always win. Sometimes we don’t even get close to winning. Worse still, sometimes we lose. Badly. And the losing can happen in roller-coaster succession, so that life really feels discriminatory and unfair. Yet, we tell ourselves and tell our children to try not to focus on the results to warrant happiness or success, as results are finicky. But rather, focus on the experience itself. To be sure, we cannot all be the best, but we all can do our best. We may not all win, but we must not lose our sense of self to pity and discouragement. To do your best, and show pride in a job well done, yet never look for any public glory or recognition is to be platinum in sportsmanship and character. And that is no small feat for anyone.
We went to MacDonald’s and never mentioned the standings again. A few fries and a hamburger later, life was all good. Her face was no longer downcast. We small-talked and enjoyed the new high seats, complements of renovations made to the popular family restaurant. Which just goes to show how beautifully children handle hurt. How very resilient they are. And sometimes, under very special conditions, hurts and disappointments can be remedied with a trip through the Golden Arches. And when they are remedied at such a small cost, we all win.
I’m lovin’ it when that happens.