More specifically, she ran for one of two student council representative spots for her 3rd grade class.
She told me on our walk home from school one day. Her 2-year-old sister was in the stroller pointing out every house that she saw by saying “This
. . . a house,” and Chloe was on her 14th story about her day only three minutes into our walk. It was delightful and quite impressive. Apparently, 3rd graders don’t have to breathe when they’re telling 14 stories in a row.
Then she told me that she was running for student council.
I would like to say that I instantly said something like “That’s awesome!” or “Cool!” or even something remotely clever. But I didn’t. I was silent.
Chloe, of course, was unaware of this silence because she, as if alone on stage with the spotlight upon her, was performing the world’s greatest soliloquy about . . . well, I wasn’t really sure. But I was glad she kept talking because I was lost in my own thoughts about what she just told me. And how I didn’t want her to run.
Because if she ran, she could lose. Then she’d come face to face with the reality that sometimes, no matter how hard you work or how much you want something, you still don’t get it. And then Chloe would become an adult without any hopes or aspirations because I let both get crushed in the 3rd grade. If that sounds overly dramatic, know that I’m aware of that fact and I, at the time, was fully embracing my overreaction. At that point, unknown to Chloe, I had decided that I wasn’t going to let her run. I was going to protect her from the possible disappointment and hurt by not allowing her the opportunity to be hurt.
And right before I opened my mouth, I remembered a time when Chloe was learning to ride her bike. She was pretty awful, as we are with anything that we’re learning, and as she rode down the trail, she lost control and went into a ditch. I ran to catch up and found her crying against a tree. I helped her up and retrieved her bike. She had gotten pretty scraped up. After some tears, hugs, and water, I asked if she wanted to walk her bike home instead of riding it.
She looked at me as if I were crazy and said: “Daddy, you always said the best thing you can do when you fall off your bike is to get back on.” And then she did. She biked all the way home. And she still talks about that moment to this day.
So I wondered, why was this student council thing any different? Because it wasn’t about her. It was about me. And my insecurities.
When I was a kid, and even as an adult, there have been times that I chose to stay on the sidelines because I was scared of what might happen if I took a chance and put myself out there. I just didn’t want to lose, be embarrassed, or be found out as a fraud. Now that I’m older, those fears, though present, don’t dictate my life like they used to.
And as parents, one of our most important jobs is not to burden our kids with our “issues.” (Of note, I don’t consider my passing on of my extreme dislike for bread-and-butter pickles to Chloe a bad thing. They are terrible. Long live the dill.) Kids will develop enough issues on their own over time, so it doesn’t seem fair to give them ours too. Maggie and I, as parents, had agreed a long time ago that we wouldn’t do that. And now, presented with the opportunity, I had to make a choice.
As soon as Chloe finally paused for a breath, I told her I was proud of her and wished her good luck in the election. That day, she came home and started putting her campaign together. She decided on her platform, made a sweet poster, and got her speech ready. Throughout the process, she got increasingly excited and ran a really good and strong campaign. Then the vote came.
She did not win.
After school that day, she was disappointed. As I held her hand, we talked about how she had done her best and that sometimes you’re not going to come out on top. And that’s okay. She told me she congratulated the winners and then asked if it was all right if she was sad and maybe even a little jealous. I told her that of course it was. Then we talked about how many times my plays have been rejected, and that the best thing to do is to keep working hard and putting yourself out there. She smiled and then told me something that made me happy and extremely proud.
She told me she was looking forward to running again next year.
She had climbed out of the ditch and was ready to ride again. She really deserved the ice cream she got that night.
Or at least Pants does.
You see, Pants is our family cat. My wife adopted her before we were married. Pants was the cat at the shelter that probably wouldn't have been adopted if not for Maggie. She was scruffy and wild and, shall we say, less than attractive. Over the 11 years she’s been a part of our family, she’s turned into an absolutely charming, if slightly insane, cat. Pants and I get along great, although there was this one time that she regrew an ovary and decided that I was the target of her affections. It was uncomfortable and our relationship was strained for a while because of it. But that’s not what this blog post is about. It’s about a staring contest. With a cat.
I like staring contests. I’m pretty much at a championship level, and no matter what anyone says, it has nothing to do with who I challenge. My children, people who aren't aware they’re competing against me, people who don’t want to compete (can you say forfeit?), my students, people with severe eye allergies, and this one one-eyed homeless waif who wore a potato sack. My goal has always been to pick competitors who won’t provide much of a challenge. There’s a life lesson there. My only mistake ever in the hugely popular world of staring contests was challenging Pants.
It was a summer night. We lived in a tiny house with an even tinier air conditioner that cooled two feet in front of it, and Maggie and I were watching something on TV. I was stretched out on the couch, and Pants jumped up on my chest, close to my face, and started staring at me. Challenging me, if you will. At first, I ignored it. I had had 4 matches in my 7th-grade classroom the previous week (all victories), so I didn't have much interest in it. But being a fighting champion, a natural competitor, and sort of bored, I finally relented with a simple statement to my feline soon-to-be foe.
“Bring it, Pants.”
And she brought it. We stared at each other intently, both determined not to look away or blink. A bead of sweat dripped in my eye, but I was unaffected. I was also unaffected by wife advising me to throw in the towel and quit. I was taken aback by that for a moment. Did Rocky Balboa throw in the towel when Apollo Creed was fighting Drago in Rocky IV? No, and because of that . . . [SPOILER ALERT] Apollo didn't quit. He lost the match and then . . . died. Actually, that’s a bad example. Anyway, looking back, I suppose I should have listened to her.
Several minutes into our match, Pants, clearly understanding that she was about to lose, decided to cheat. Much like Mike Tyson taking an ear, Pants lashed out with a paw, claws out, at my face. She made contact and it hurt. I broke the stare and jumped off the couch. I went to check my face in the bathroom mirror and found that I was bleeding and that my eye was scratched. As a true warrior, I started laughing, but Maggie saw it and demanded that I go to the emergency room. [Ed: He was bleeding FROM THE EYE. I stand by my decision.]
That’s right, a staring contest with my cat sent me to the emergency room.
The emergency room personnel, though caring and competent, seemed to all be working on their fledgling stand-up comedy routines and using me and my dreadful situation as the majority of their material. And . . . they clearly did not understood the rules of a staring contest because, after hearing my story, one after another they said the same thing:
“Guess we know who won!”
That’s right, we do. Me. Using one’s paw to slash your competitor across the eye and sending said competitor to the emergency room is clearly a violation of staring contest rules. And it doesn’t matter that staring at an animal is seen as a challenge. Because it was a challenge. A staring contest challenge. Not a fight to the death one.
That was years ago. I picked up my win by disqualification, my eye survived, and Pants and I have moved on from the event. And sometimes, we even still engage in staring contests.
I’m just in another room when it happens.
Today you are heading off to 3rd grade. You, who as a baby found the music of MC Hammer soothing (not even his old stuff, more of his “never heard” stuff), are now almost 8 and sometimes acting much older than that. I am very confident that you will have a successful year, but I’m aware of the perils that 3rd grade can present. And with that in mind, my dear, I offer you these 10 Dos for your 3rd-grade year.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.