It used to be that when we played games, Manchild was happy just to participate. Every match found in Memory was a victory — whether it was his match or not. Every round of The Loser Game was a joy to be a part of — even if he wound up with the loser sign around his neck at the end. But in the past few weeks, everything has changed. He’s grown up a little. He’s realized there’s more to games than just playing. He’s felt the sting of defeat and the joy of victory. And he’s become quite the little competitor.
I’m not sure what to make of it, or how to deal. On Wednesday he lost his Loser Game privileges after he had a meltdown from losing one too many times and crying for the next hour. (In my defense, I was helping him as much as I could, but in the end it was just luck and I was, unfortunately, luckier than he was.) I’d love to help him learn to be a good loser and a gracious winner, but I’m really not much of an example on either account. Especially when it seems to conflict with other traits I want my children (and myself) to develop as well.
Let me explain.
This afternoon I asked Manchild if he wanted to play Memory. We have two sets of the game: one with 24 matches, the other with 35. I let him pick. “I want to do the one with more, because that one is harder and you say that I can do hard things,” he said.
It’s true. I do say that. I say that because so often he tells me things are too hard, that he doesn’t want to do them. (Meanwhile, his 21-month-old brother does them like they are his job.) And so we played the harder one, the one with 35 matches.
Every few turns we counted how many matches we had, just to be sure he was still ahead. I botched my chances, lead him to the right cards, and pretended to not know things that I really knew. In the end, he had 22 matches to my 13 and we were both happy. He was a fairly gracious winner, and I was a good loser. He did a hard thing (sort of). And I hope his confidence grew a little bit and he is a little less afraid of a challenge.
But on the other hand, he can’t win all the time. I can’t let him and I can’t protect him when he does lose. So I hope that when he’s up against someone who wants to win just as much as he does, and isn’t willing to let him slip by, he’ll still want to do hard things. I hope he won’t mind the challenge, and that he even learns to love it. I hope that, eventually, each defeat is motivation to try harder, to learn, to make changes, to be happy for the accomplishments (and sometimes luck) of others, and not an excuse to wallow in self-pity. I hope that for myself as well as for my children. Because I have plenty of room for improvement, too. And really, I should just be happy for the chance to participate.