22 May 2013

On Falling...

It's the day of the big race. Junior School Cross Country dawns clear and sunny.
A five year old schoolboy wakes up singing: "It's my first cross country! it's my first cross country!"

He has dreamed of this day. Practised for it for years.

This lad couldn't be more amped.
Everyone knows how Scrag loves to race. He's known for it. It's his THING.
At kindy he spent almost every day organising running races; now at school he's spent lunchtimes running practise races with other competitors.
He thinks he knows the field and he fancies his chances.

And this is it. The Big Day. A Real Race.

Enthusiastic Big Sister talks him up big: "Scrag you're gonna win! You're awesome!"

But cautious mama and dadda have seen this all before.
We know enough to prepare him for the "not win".

So we encourage him differently: "The main thing is get out there and enjoy yourself. Just do your best. The most important thing is your attitude, bud. Have a good attitude, do your best and don't cry if you don't win... that's what will make us proud of you, OK?"

He nods. He's heard us. He gets it. We drum it into him: Do your best but chin up if you don't win; we're proud of you anyway.
What more could we have said? Well...
we could have told him what to do if he fell.

It's race time. What seems like a gazillion five-year old boys line up on the far side of the field.
The gun goes off, the race begins.
Loudly we cheer... and here comes Scrag. He's listened to dadda's advice about not sprinting too hard at the start. He's sitting comfortably in fourth place as they come down the stretch.
"Go Scrag! Go Scrag! You're doing GREAT!" we shout.

Then they are around the corner, out of sight. I cross the muddy field and position myself near the finish line, ready to snap a picture of my boy completing his first-ever proper race.

"Here they come!" the loudspeaker announces. Up the final stretch they come, a trickle of boys running hard. My eyes scan the runners, my camera snaps away, just in case.
Where is my boy?

The race is over. My little runner has not finished. Something must have happened. My mother's heart is already crying for him; I just know he will be devastated and disappointed beyond belief.

I find him, being led by his Big Sister, face crumpled, knees bruised, eyes leaking, dreams dashed.
"I fell ooooover!" he sobs, tears streaming (those heartwrenching sobbing tears where you know a little heart is breaking).

So close to the end of the race. He was in third place; as he crossed the tiger turf, a mere 200 metres from the finish line he stumbled, tripped, fell.
His knees hurt. He stayed down.
He stayed down and he sat there crying, as runner after runner passed him by.
Until one stopped to help him up. This guy...

This kind friend put him back on his feet, then continued his race.
Dadda realised something was amiss when racing-boy did not appear; he sent Big Sister to go find him.
There he was, crying his heart out. Did he want her to run with him to the end?
No. He had lost his place. He didn't want to continue...

We forgot to tell him what to do if he fell down.

See, if you fall down, the race isn't over.
Sure you might not win or even place. You might have to suffer the pain of watching others pass you by...
But the most important thing is to finish the race.

We forgot to tell our son this very important thing.
You get knocked down, but you get back up again.
You finish the race.

Like this little guy...

This is Turbo (remember him?) He face-planted right near the start of the race. See that mud on his shirt?
Turbo got back up and kept on running. He finished the race, mud and all.

Poor Scrag.
He was heartbroken. Devastated.
But we helped him through it (the kindness of his buddies helped too). We told him we're proud of him anyway. That we understand how much he wanted it and how upset he must have felt, falling down.

Then later, long after the tears had dried, we talked about NEXT TIME.
If you get knocked down, even if it hurts, even if you have lost your chance to win, even if you have to limp across the finish line... finish.
So now he knows.

I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere for all of us too, aye?

[some of our school's values - giant pencils in gardens around the grounds]

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