Winner Takes All
But overall, I’m not competitive.
At least, I thought not. Then I went to my daughter’s first indoor basketball scrimmage.
“HONEY, BASKETBALL IS A MOVING GAME!” I called to her. “LEAVE YOUR HAIR ALONE AND COVER YOUR GUY!”
I then clamped my hand over my mouth. Oh my God, I thought; I’m a yeller. I was mortified. I turned to the woman next to me, who had not been yelling at her child, for absolution.
“Hey, did you hear that?” I said nervously. “I’ve become That Mom, the one who yells at her child from the sidelines! I never realized it at soccer or baseball; maybe because we were outside and I didn’t sound so loud! Ha ha ha . . . oh well! Um, what was your name? Can we be friends?”
She edged over a bit, silently willing the parent on her other side to move down.
But it was OK, I decided. So I’m a yeller. I’d recognized the behavior, and that was half the battle. It’s not like I was demeaning my child or screaming at the coach, for God’s sake. I was just offering a little advice, a little guidance that would benefit her play.
“OK, BABY, JUST LEAVE THE JERSEY ALONE! PLEASE! WATCH THE BALL! GO! GO! GO!”
I then dropped my head into the coat that was resting in my lap. Somebody help me, I silently pleaded into the faux fur. Stop me before I yell again. I spent the rest of game that way, hoping people would just assume I was napping.
Apparently I didn’t realize how competitive I was until the kids were old enough to compete. I mean, sure, my husband almost blew his rapturous future with me when I lost to him bowling on our first date, but that was years ago—surely I’ve grown since then! Isn’t having children supposed to quell that competitive streak?
Of course it does. When playing Go Fish in the early days, I even let the kids win from time to time, because that’s what a mother does—and really, where’s the fun in beating a toddler? I will admit I shouldn’t have so thoroughly enjoyed the Scrabble victory over a nephew a few years ago, but he was in high school, darn it, and should have known those words. Being an English teacher, and a professional writer, is not necessarily an advantage, you know.
But if I suspected this isn’t healthy mother behavior, pingpong confirmed it. It started innocently when a neighbor gave us his table. “Oh, come on!” I exhorted my husband. “It’ll be fun! I haven’t played since I was a child!” I left out the part about marathon rounds in a freezing cold, dark stone basement, my brothers and I all refusing to end on a loss. Maybe I’d blocked it out.
As soon as the table was set up, however, I was 12, and every competitor was a brother. I always complimented a nice opposing shot, but the effect was dampened by the “BOO YEAs!” that followed my own. Both children, at separate times, stopped play to inform me that my celebrating was making them feel bad. My husband was not fazed simply because he kept winning. He was the worst brother of all.
So I’ve learned something about myself. Even though I model good sportsmanship, my competitiveness might make my cheering sound critical to my kids. Even yelling “You can do it!” could be dismaying if it’s yelled with a competitive edge. So I will learn to cheer and appreciate the game for the game’s sake. I know I can. Eventually.
But not today. Today my husband is approaching with that telltale glint in his eye, and I’m ready. “Oh yeah?” I taunt. “You talkin’ to me? You want a piece of me? Come on, paddle boy. Loser buys dinner.”
Maggie Lamond Simone is a book author, award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at