"What happens when we don't take our pain, our pleasures and our mortality seriously? If we can't honor and embrace the disappointments as well as the 'successes' in our lives? We overcompensate. We take [ourselves] much too seriously. We fall out of balance." --John Lee from his book, Writing from the Body
On Easter Sunday we had the fam over for lunch after church. "The Fam" this particular Sunday included three grandparents, four aunts and uncles, and four cousins between the ages of ten and fifteen. My younger son wanted to provide some entertainment for the cousins and decided we should have a scavenger hunt.
He got the idea from an episode of The Big Bang Theory, which we had watched earlier that week. In the episode entitled, "The Scavenger Vortex," Raj plans a scavenger hunt for his friends in which they solve puzzles and follow clues in order to find a prize. In Raj's version, the prize was a gold coin and, as in so many competitions today, everyone was a winner. Everyone got a gold coin.
My son was insistent: in his scavenger hunt there would be no prize for second place. To the victor - and to the victor only - would go the spoils, in this case a small Easter basket containing two plastic eggs full of candy.
We created the hunt as a family, and had a lot of fun coming up with clues and riddles as well as places to hide them. I was feeling a bit uncomfortable with the "one winner" concept, but was determined to let this be my son's project and not try and control the experience. (Secretly, of course, I was hoping that the winners would decide to share their candy with the other participants.)
The next day, after all the cousins arrived, it was time to begin the hunt.
Their oldest cousin decided not to participate, so instead of two, two-person teams we had three, one-person teams. My son passed out the envelopes with the first clues to his three cousins and they all took off. Together. Oops!
We had forgotten to separate them at the beginning so no one could follow anyone else or work together. I panicked. What if they all finished at the same time? The basket had two eggs in it, one for each member of a two-person winning team. What if they all reached the finish line at the same time? Someone would not get an egg.
I hurried to put together one more egg just like the first two and snuck it into the Easter basket, which was hiding in our upstairs shower. If they all reached the end together, everyone would have an egg or, if the winner wanted to share (wink, wink), there would be enough candy for everyone.
So naïve. Or, as my boys would say, “Such a MOM.”
As the contest progressed, the kids all went off in different directions based upon their interpretation of the clues and in the end my thirteen-year-old nephew found the Easter basket first and was the clear winner. Now came the moment of truth. Would he share his winnings with his younger cousins, or keep them for himself?
Not only did he not share, he was very clear in his review of the scavenger hunt that having one winner - and one winner only - was a huge plus in his book. He said to my younger son, "I thought this scavenger hunt was going to be really lame because everyone was going to win, but it wasn't."
My younger son was beaming. Beaming and triumphant. Not only had he pulled off a successful scavenger hunt, he had impressed his older cousin with his cut-throat game policy. My older son was pleased as well and, as far as I could tell, the other cousins had no expectation of any prize. There were no tears, no tantrums, and they all ran off happily to play together.
After everyone left my boys were telling me all about the hunt and I said to them, "Kids don't like it when everybody wins do they? They know it's bullshit." My older son smiled knowingly and nodded. My younger son beamed again with pride and said, “Yeah.”
What I learned this Easter Sunday is that I need to stop protecting my kids from their pain - and from their pleasures. Winning feels good and there is nothing wrong with having and enjoying that experience as long as it is done mindfully.
There is a lot more focus these days on good sportsmanship and fair play - certainly more than when I was a kid and this is awesome - but in the process we have somehow created a system in which everyone still really wants to win at the things they do, but no one is allowed to admit it or to enjoy it.
Winning shouldn't be the only thing, but if you are going to play games (and sports), it IS a part of life. We try and pretend that it doesn't matter and that everyone can be a winner all the time, but that's bullshit and we aren't fooling anyone. Least of all our kids.
[I must have a lot to learn in this area because this topic seems to come up for me a lot. Here are two other posts I have written about winning and losing: Heart. Broken & The Game of Life.]