“You’re a shining star
No matter who you are
Shining bright to see
What you could truly be”
-Earth Wind and Fire
There are two classic songs with the title “Shining Star.” One is by Earth Wind and Fire, the other by the Manhattans. It’s difficult to compare the two, as the songs are very different. One is slow, the other fast. One is about love, the other is about being the best YOU that you can be. One hit number 1 on Billboard’s “Hot 100.” The other only hit number 5. I love them both, but the one by the Manhattans is my favorite, no matter what the charts say about which is better. This week, though, the Earth Wind and Fire version has been playing in my head.
Zoe just finished her first select soccer tournament this past weekend. Her team placed 2nd in their division against a tough Snohomish United A team. While some may consider 2nd place losing, I am very proud of Zoe and the rest of the girls for a fantastic performance. I’m not a big participation trophy advocate, as I believe it diminishes accomplishments, but I do consider 2nd place worthy of getting excited about.
I won 2nd place once. There was a track meet my fourth grade year, and somehow I ended up on the shuttle relay. As you can see…
I still have my second place ribbon. The girls I ran the race with were probably disappointed. Truth be told, I’m sure I was the weak link on that team, and they likely would have won the race if they had someone faster in my place. Two of the girls had already won several events that day. That red ribbon that they received for the relay was likely the lowlight of the meet for them . For me, however, it was worthy of saving for 30 years.
I was having a conversation recently with a friend who said, “Have you ever met someone like you, only better?”
The answer is, of course I have. I’ve never been the exceptional one. I’ve never been the prettiest, smartest, fastest. Never the best athlete, never the star of the play, never the best anything in my whole life. Don’t get me wrong- this is no pity party. You could say I have had a lot of disappointments, but I never had any expectation of being the best. Maybe I have lowered my expectations. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I was scared, or maybe I wasn’t ______________ enough. Maybe I just wasn’t enough. I’ve never won a race, but I’ve finished several. I’ve never won a singing competition, but I’ve sung. I wasn’t valedictorian, but I made the honor roll every year. And I’ve relished these personal victories, even though I never had any public ones.
I have known some exceptional people. We all have. You can usually spot them right away. There is a girl like that in Zoe’s grade at school. From the beginning of Kindergarten, it was obvious that this girl had “it.” The one that every girl wanted to be friends with, to be like. Who, at age 6, had no clue of the power she wielded, but it was obvious to everyone around her. And she would soon learn. She’s the girl who makes every team she tries out for, who gets the starring role in every play. The one who will win every student election she runs in, and who, someday, will be homecoming queen. She will have more trophies and awards than her parents will know what to do with.
I had two friends like that growing up. One in elementary school, one in high school. The first, let’s call her “E,” I met right after my family moved from Huntington Beach to Lake Stevens, Washington. My parents went church shopping, and her father was the pastor of a tiny new church. They were recent transplants from Tucson, Arizona. (Or Las Cruces, New Mexico. I can’t remember, maybe both. All I know is her mom made amazing Navajo tacos.)
E and I clicked right away, and in the fall we started first grade together at our local private Christian school. We had so much in common, but in everything we did together, she was just better. She ran faster. She was better at basketball, volleyball, track. She had long, shiny wavy dark hair. I had straight blonde hair that I had permed, causing me to look like a poodle.
She was taller, thinner. She wasn’t boy-crazy like I was, and yet they flocked to her. We sang duets in the school talent show, but she had more confidence. She played first chair clarinet, I played second chair flute. We both tried out for cheerleading in 6th grade and made it, but she was clearly the more coordinated of the two of us.
E had another friend that she spent a lot of time with. I don’t blame her for wanting to hang around this girl. “S” was blonde also, but she was Scandinavian platinum blonde, while I was Irish dirty blonde. S was as good, if not better, than E at sports. (S and E were the two girls on my relay team I mentioned earlier.) She was beautiful, sweeter than pie, and she lived in a big house on the lake. I couldn’t compete.
So I got bossy. And mean.
I developed an ability to be condescending in the 3rd grade that could rival even the snarkiest of adults. I used my large vocabulary as a weapon.
And I sealed my own fate. My jealousy, instead of motivating me to improve myself, caused me to be resentful, and a sore loser. If I couldn’t beat them at their game, I would create my own. The trouble with that is I was the only one playing. I was the winner and the loser all at once.
I wasn’t a naturally gifted athlete, but I did love sports. I asked my parents to buy me a bunch of softball equipment for my 10th birthday. I got the ball, the glove, the bat, the hitting net and all the Mariner’s gear. I didn’t have a team to play on, though. Sometimes I would play catch with my dad. One day, I missed the ball, it smacked me in the face, and broke my nose. To this day I have a bump on the bridge of my nose as a reminder of my failure, not to mention a fear of balls flying at my face.
In the 7th grade I tried out for Volleyball. I was on the third string. For those of you athletes out there, third string is where they place you when you are hopeless, but they feel too sorry for you not to let you on the team. I was benchwarmer for the benchwarmers. I had a curious habit of kicking my right foot back every time I served the ball. I could hear the giggles from the sidelines. I tried out for basketball, and found that the same habit appeared every time I attempted a free throw.
This was also about the time that I grew boobs. Between those “developments” and my propensity to have an asthma attack whenever I ran, I came to the conclusion that I would never be an athlete.
My next foray into the sporting world was 9th grade track. As you can see…
I didn’t actually run track. I was the manager. (Thanks, Mr. Gionet, for making sure there was no question as to my participation on my certificate.) I attended the meets and did whatever the coach wanted. And I organized the spaghetti feeds. Remember, “if you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.”
Also during my ninth grade year, a new girl came to my school. We became fast friends. It’s always great when you find someone with similar interests. What is difficult is when one of you has success and the other doesn’t. “C” was/ is a beautiful girl/ woman. She had perfect skin, teeth and amazing blue eyes. Where I was awkward, she was graceful.
At the end of our sophomore year, we both tried out for jazz choir. We chose our songs together, rehearsed together, and went to tryouts together. When they posted the results, she was listed for jazz choir, and I was listed under the women’s choir, which I hadn’t even tried out for. I went to the choir director and he told me that the vote was very close between the two of us (current choir members had voting input on the new members) but that they had decided she was a better fit. I was crushed. If I had chosen a different song, if I had sung it better, if I was thinner, prettier…
About a month later we both tried out for cheerleading. Getting on the cheer squad for junior year was a big accomplishment. There were usually only 2 selected each year, the rest being incoming seniors. Whoever came in as a junior, would then be captains the following year. I had wanted to be a Snohomish football cheerleader since I attended a cheer clinic in the 3rd grade. (We did a stellar routine to “Mickey.”) C was selected, I was not. Soon, she was invited to all the cool parties and her squad and their older friends became the people she spent the most time with.
My response was to do what I always did when faced with my insecurities and inadequacies. I tried to bully her and control our friendship. It took almost a year to repair the damage that I did.
The following spring I tried out again, and this time I made it. She was captain. And she was on the homecoming court. (As was “S”) But by this time I had begun to come to terms with my place in this world. I was never going to be the superstar, but I had good friends who were. And if I wanted to stay friends with them, I needed to get over myself and just be there for them. Since that time I cannot think of one moment that I have ever begrudged the success of one of my friends.
Fast forward 10 years, and I’m a mom to 5 year old Sydney. Jeff’s boss at the time convinced us to sign her up for the soccer team he was coaching. It was his son’s team. All boys, and little Sydney. To say that season was comical and painful would be an understatement.
When soccer didn’t pan out, she asked to take ballet and tap lessons. I made her take them one additional year after she started begging to quit. From there, she did English horseback riding for two years, hip hop dancing for one, a summer of tennis, and one week of field hockey. As the $200 worth of field hockey equipment sat unused in the garage, Sydney decided once and for all that sports was not her thing. She’s finally found her thing- music. She taught herself to play the guitar, write songs and sing.
We signed Nathan up for Tae Kwon Do at the age of 4. He did that for 2 years, and then we moved from Utah to Socal, so he quit. At 7 he started baseball. He had never even played catch before. (Don’t look at me.) Following his first practice, the coach called me and asked, “Do you really want to do this?” Nathan was so far behind ( at this point all the boys had been playing for 2 years) and the coach was concerned it would damage his self esteem. I told him that he needed to give him a chance, that he was a hard worker, and he would do everything asked of him. If he was willing to coach him, Nathan would be coachable. At the end of that season, he received the award for “most improved.”
Nathan played baseball for 3 more years after that, and did jiu jitsu and kickboxing for two. Most of the time I had to drag him there. He didn’t love it. A year ago he started playing tennis. He seems to actually enjoy it, and that’s my hope for him. I’m not setting my sights on Wimbledon, I just want him to find something he likes to do.
Parker could care less about sports. He’s done two years of soccer and is playing the last game of his third season of baseball on Saturday. Following the game, they are having their end of season party.
He asked me last night, “Do we get a prize at the party?”
I said, “You get trophies.”
He responded, “I don’t care, trophies suck.”
Barring a minor miracle, Parker is unlikely to be MVP of any team that he plays for. He just doesn’t care enough.
His first season of soccer he spent chasing after his opponents ( and sometimes his teammates) like “the Creeper” from Scooby Doo.
He never paid any attention to the ball. Sunny games in either sport are always a challenge, because then he can see his shadow. One time I bribed him with a dollar for every intentional contact he made with the soccer ball. He earned $3 for the whole game.
And then there’s Zoe. Zoe doesn’t have to be cajoled, bribed or forced to play sports. She played 3 years of softball, 3 years of soccer, she’s done ice skating for 18 months, and she really wants to try volleyball. My issue with Zoe is that she wants to play too many sports, often concurrently. She’s good, and she’s improving. But I don’t believe it’s because we have done anything different with her, and it’s certainly not that she’s inherited some recessive athletic gene, she just really wants it. And she will have to work harder than some of the other girls to get it. She’s shorter and stockier than a lot of her teammates. But she’s got a passion to play and a competitive spirit.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about superstar kids in sports. Zoe’s team played against a girl who scored all but one of her team’s 8 goals. This friend has a daughter like that. She is a third generation athlete, who excels at every sport she tries. She was ostracized by her team last year because she was the only one to score any of their goals all season long, except for two. The parents and kids were so jealous that they made her feel bad about her success.
I try to teach my kids that they don’t have to be the star of the team and don’t need to put their teammates down to make them feel better about themselves. The kids who are amazing, the kids who are average, the kids who probably shouldn’t be playing- they all deserve to be supported and cheered on. I want my kids to try their best, and enjoy what they are doing. (Except Parker. I’m gonna keep making him do sports for now, even if it is torture for everyone involved.)
There are families that would say winning isn’t just important, it’s everything. I feel like winning isn’t only about the score at the end of the game. It’s the byproduct of doing something you love, and putting your everything into it. Sometimes, you can give your everything and not be the victor on the scoreboard, but when you know you’ve done your best, there’s a victory in that.
But what do I know? My greatest sports accomplishment was second place in an elementary school relay race 30 years ago.
There will always be those that we meet that are better than us. I choose to revel in the accomplishment of improvement . If I only considered winning success, I would feel like the biggest loser around. But I can take pride in doing me the best that I can, and improving where there is room to do so. (And boy, is there room.)
Whether Zoe’s team wins first place or third place in their next tournament, I’ll be as proud of her as I was this past weekend as long as she tries her best- Just as I was proud of Nathan’s “most improved.” My wish for my kids is for them to be the best Sydney, Nathan, Zoe and Parker they can be. And I haven’t quite given up on myself yet either.