Years ago I was in a match play tournament at my home course. These golf tournaments are set up in a double knockout format with an “A” side and a “B” side. It usually lasts over the course of three to four months. You are given two weeks to set up and play a match. The overall winners of each side take the winning pot at the end of the tournament. Its a good way for golfers of all skill levels to compete against each other. One day I was on the phone with another woman setting up our game. We didn’t know each other but we knew about each other mainly because our children crossed paths in the golf world. After the preliminary niceties we proceeded to fill each other in on who we were. Get acquainted so to speak. Or rather she did. My one simple question about what her kids were up to led to a thirty minute brag fest. Oh my gosh the little demons were perfection. In all ways. I doubt there was an activity in which these two girls didn’t excel. I found my attention wandering as it does, wondering if I should just forfeit the game. I had serious doubts about spending four hours with this woman on a golf course. When she came up for air I assumed she was preparing for the verbal sequel of the lives of her perfect offspring. As a result she caught me off guard when she asked about my kids. I reached far into the cobweb files of my mind searching for spectacular stories of my own kids. Their lives thus far. Hurdles jumped. Goals achieved. Impossible finish lines reached. I blanked. I had been in the middle of preparing my grocery list when she asked this question. That last avocado went mushy before I used it. Did I need milk? I mean so far my contribution to the conversation was a lot of “uh huh’s” and “oh really’s” as I glanced through the cupboards and fridge with the phone cocked between by ear and chin. So I told her the truth. “I got nothin’. My kid’s are mediocre.” There was silence at the end of the line so I jumped in quickly to set a date for the match and got off that phone before she recovered her voice. Thirty minutes. Pissed away. As I walked away from the phone I thought about my reply. Where did that come from?
We were parents at a young age. Being young and poor meant kids went everywhere we went. Outdoor rock concerts with small kids was a luxury because the kids got in for free. Movies were at drive ins so we brought home made popcorn. It also meant doing activities that didn’t require much money. Baseball can be played anywhere with little equipment so all of the kids played ball. Britt received her first basketball when she was seven. A present to take away the sting of a new baby. I always felt learning to swim was important as it is a life saving activity. And so everyone was put into lessons at the local pool. One was a competitive swimmer for a bit. Another became a gymnast. Pond skating led to hockey. Box Lacrosse became popular and was a hit with two of the kids. Everyone had bikes of course. They represented freedom for me as a child. One child embraced school sports. Another dabbled. The third had no interest. The passing of time meant more money which in turn meant more expensive pursuits. Golf, skiing, snowboarding. In time one child became a musician. One was in the school band. Yet another loved to sing. We have a room full of instruments in the basement. The decision for post secondary education was made by all at different times in their lives. Areas of study are as diverse as the kids themselves.
We never pushed them in any activities. We put them into everything in which they showed interest. Eventually something would spark for them and passions were developed. We didn’t care much if they excelled or not but there were rules. If we paid for classes or lessons, we expected the kids to follow through. No quitting if they didn’t like it. When the activity ended they chose what happened next. Follow through or not. If you like something you keep at it. If not, try something else. Playing a team sport meant they had an obligation to the team. No quitting. Just don’t play next season. Through the years my kids did a multitude of activities. Interestingly enough they have very little overlap. Into adulthood they still embrace music and sports but in a wildly scattered way. Watching them become adults I see that they are like spokes on a wheel spreading out from the hub that is us. They have expanded on their passions. Moving in different directions and trying new things. They live their lives on their own terms but bring their childhood and family experiences into their big kids lives. None of them won gold at the Olympics or graduated top of their class. But they tried new things. Pushed the limits. Failed and got back up again. I have raised three incredibly diverse individuals. I didn’t make them that way. They are just individuals. All have made me incredibly proud during their lives. But then again, I am their Mom. That’s to be expected.
As I thought about the crazy golf Mom and her super kids I came to understand my response. Nothing earth shattering or profound. I thought back to a day when I was about 11 years old. I was riding the old gold Honda 100 around the yard. Following the worn path I had beaten down over time. Through the front yard, onto the driveway, around the back of the house, speeding up the small hill trying to get some air. Then out into the field, through some trees, full out throttle on the way back and slow into the yard. I stopped when I saw my Dad watching me. He asked who had started the motorbike for me. I had been riding forever but I was too small to kick start the bike. I always had to get my Dad to do it for me. That day I didn’t ask and when he heard me cruising he came out to see what was up. A few days earlier my brother taught me to start the bike. I told this to my father and he asked me to show him. As I heaved my weight down on the kick start pedal I could tell my Dad was proud of me. He didn’t say anything but he smiled. He watched me ride away and as I came back around the house he was gone. It wasn’t anything to write home about but in his eyes it was an achievement. No fan fare. No bragging on me. Not the Danish way. But I was becoming self sufficient. He was quietly pleased.
I learned a valuable lesson from the supermom that day. It brought my Dads lesson back to me as well. As we give our kids the tools they need to grow up, even the mundane and boring achievements make us proud. It shows us we are doing our job. Creating people who can navigate life. When we praise everything our kids do at every turn we do them a disservice. Praising a god given talent teaches our kids nothing. Praising hard work and effort encourages them to strive for what they want in life. Bragging on the boring and mundane alienates us from the world. I avoided that supermom and others like her at every turn. I love my kids and I am so glad when they do well. The “my kids are better than your kids game” is one I don’t care to play much less win. Their successes are not mine. Besides, through life their friends will boast about their successes. The flip side to that is there will always be those who will talk about their failures. That is the balance of life. I did my job. Good bad or otherwise I raised my children successfully according to the yardstick I use to measure success. Not one of them lives in my basement. Life is fine here in mediocre land.