Have you ever found yourself recognizing the absurdity of a situation in real-time? It’s like when you wish someone in the elevator a “Happy Monday!”, but even more specific than that.
This may or may not be a purely hypothetical illustration. Let’s say you are 36 weeks pregnant, it’s a hot July morning, and you sign your little family up for a July Fourth Fun run on a vacation to Freeport, ME.
And in this scenario, let’s say your toddler, who loves to move fast, suddenly does not want to run. She also does not want to walk. She also does not want to be in the stroller. She does, however, want everyone to know how unhappy she is with the confines of an organized event on vacation.
In this situation, you line up with the other families. While no one seems totally thrilled to be out in the heat, no one is being quite as loud as your little team. You hear jokes about “earning our hotdogs and ice cream,” and you find yourself wishing that caloric earning was your primary concern.
It occurs to you to rethink your mission, but the gun goes off, and you find yourself propelled forward out of habit in response to the sound. As the happy crowd falls into place in this hypothetical, the sight of everyone else participating happily as a family does not entice your toddler into compliance. If anything, it exacerbates her performance.
Soon, it’s not the lack of running/walking that’s the issue. Your main challenge becomes the repeated attempts to lay prostrate on the pavement despite the slowly progressing police car behind you, because you are last. You’re too pregnant for all this nonsense, this was probably your husband’s idea, and you’re holding up the fun run.
This scenario is just a mile run, but it’s long enough to regret. You’re all the way out, ready to go back when things hit there worst. You figure it is best to return to a police escort than not at all. It’s like you are an elite athlete in a backward universe.
Despite your massive belly, your toddler only wants you to carry her. Even though she loves daddy, she only wants mommy at this moment. She is tall for her age, she gets it from you and is difficult to carry when she is just dead weight. The police car creeps on.
You have a commanding hold on last place.
The irony not lost, the misery palpable, your spouse speaks for you: “Some fun run.” It was bound to be said. Yet somehow, despite the heat and the tantrum of the century, you make it back to the start/finish. As you sheepishly approach with your police friends in tow, a cheerful race volunteer reaches out and hangs a leather participation medal around your miserable toddler’s neck.
Tears dried, she will be confident that she won the race. It’s a win in bizarro land, but a win is a win. So you will reinforce the lie. What’s the harm?
In case it isn’t obvious at this point, this really did happen to us back in 2015. This was very, very real. I may or may not have the medal hanging proudly in her room to prove it. I like to think we all earned that medal that hot July day.
In this mess, I learned two things.
One, you can’t force kids to do anything. They can make themselves twice as heavy by sheer will and resistance. (Also: snacks don’t always work as bribes, July is hot, and situations like this aren’t guaranteed to get better. They can quickly get worse.)
Two, sometimes, your best will be so far from your best, but the fact that you showed up and completed the race is enough.
Savor the participation medal; it means what you want it to mean. The fun run isn’t always fun, despite the deceptive signage lining the course. There is a difference between the best you can do ever and the best you can do immediately. It’s important to accept the fact that expectations may have fallen short of your experience in the real world.
Team Western could have bailed, and no one would have blamed us. But we didn’t. Instead, we held up the rear with style, volume, and forced grace. To this day, we still laugh about the irony, the misery, and the reaction Gracie had to her coveted medal. It’ll be a story for her wedding someday, no doubt.
A story we wouldn’t be able to tell it if we hadn’t shown up.