Losing It

29 10 2008

This weekend, I was one shriek away from making a real scene. I took Neener and Roo to a birthday party. A costume birthday party, attended by a mini-throng of more than a dozen kids. Trying to keep an eye on my two kids in a stranger’s house and backyard is a little tricky. Trying to keep an eye on a sugared-up zebra charging through a mini-throng of Batmans and witches in a stranger’s house and backyard, with a cold-footed autistic bride in sensory overload curled up in your lap and begging to go home? More than a little tricky. Let’s just leave it at that.

But it was a birthday party, and the whole point of a birthday party is to have fun, so I was determined to keep a big stupid grin pinned to my face. And nothing says fun and big stupid grins like party games, right? Ohhhhh sooooo wrong. Stick the Wart on the Witch’s nose went over ok, except that Roo the bride almost went arse over tea kettle from the combination of being blindfolded, spun around, and instructed to do something. And Neener the zebra was a little perturbed that she didn’t win, but everyone moved on to the next game quickly, so, no big deal. Then came Pass the Pumpkin, in which an inflatable jack-o-lantern stood in for a hot potato, and a tape of scary Halloween sounds stood in for music. Imagine Roo’s pleasure, and by pleasure I mean grimace of terror, when the hostess went to the stereo, announced it was time to start the music, pressed a button, and out came a cacaphony of thumping, creaking, howls, screams and moans. Needless to say, Roo was not into playing Pass the Pumpkin. But I was surprised when she turned down my offer to take her out of the room ,and she happily opted to watch from the sidelines of my lap, with her hands clamped tightly over her ears. Everything was fine. Until Neener the zebra was left holding the pumpkin, about halfway through the game. When she realized that that meant she lost, well, she lost it. She started crying. Wailing. Bellowing and sobbing that she was a loser and that everyone would laugh and point at her. No one was laughing and pointing of course, but I was thinking mighty hard about just bailing on the whole birthday party thing right then and there. Through my gritted teeth, still locked in the big stupid grin, I warned Neener that if she didn’t stop crying about the fact that she lost right now, we were going home. No cake. No loot bags. No sticking around to see the birthday boy open the big wooden googly eyed Batman-styled letter C we made for him. Just dragged home by one pissed off and embarrassed mother. Then directly to her room. She did stop screaming. Tears and boogers kept streaming down her face, and her body was heaving with stifled sobs, but she did stop screaming.

The whole winning and losing thing is a tough pill for Neener to swallow. Any hint of competition immediately evokes anxiety in her, and she becomes very concerned with who will win and who will lose, regardless of the game. Sometimes there is no game. Sometimes she cries and says she lost if she’s the last one to finish her supper. Or Roo goes to the bathroom before she does. We try to explain that none of these things are competitions, but it doesn’t matter. When she is involved in an actual game, we try the whole “it’s not if you win or lose, it’s all about having fun” stuff, but she knows that that is bullshit.  She’s been in plenty of situations where the winner gets a prize and the loser get squat. And that sucks. Sometimes it does matter if you win or lose, especially when you are five and you really really really want a stupid prize. And for people to congratulate and cheer for you. How can we teach her that it’s nice to win, and it feels good to be the winner, but that losing is something you have to handle graciously and calmly. At least in front of others. Neener sees things in black and white. No shades of grey in her world. If winning is good, then losing is bad, plain and simple. And I have no idea how to change this.

And as much as it is in my dragon-mother nature to breathe fire and toast my kid for acting like a spoiled brat, I’m hesitant to come down on her too hard for being a bad loser because I’ve seen first hand what that does. Neener hates to be scolded. Hates getting in trouble, and will do anything in her power to avoid it. And she knows that right now, she can’t stop herself from getting upset over losing. So instead, she will just refuse to play. That keeps her from losing. Keeps her from getting upset. Keeps her out of trouble. But it also keeps her from getting the practice she needs to become a good sport. Keeps her from experiencing the fun of playing. Keeps her from interactions with her peers, which she desperately needs. Which is what happened at the party. When round two of Pass the Pumpkin began, Neener did not want to play. But much to my surprise, Roo did. So, Neener curled up on my lap and clapped her hands over her still-teary eyes, while Roo joined the other kids on the floor. I watched with bated breath as she both took and passed the inflatable jack-o-lantern. Even while the scary sounds howled in the background, and the kid beside her had long curly hair and jewels glued to her face, Roo stayed focused on the game. No hands over her ears. No hands on the kid sitting beside her. Just playing the game. And playing. And playing. Until she was the last kid sitting. You couldn’t have pried the big stupid grin off my face. Or Neener’s face, for that matter. Roo had won her first ever birthday party game, and the three of us were visibly proud. Roo got to go into the treasure chest and pick her own prize. She emerged with a make-and-paint-your-own-sea-creature kit, complete with paint, brush, mold and enough plaster of paris to make two things. Mind you, the prize later plunged us into much chaos when Roo ate a big handful of the plaster of paris, but in that moment, it was fantastic.

So the lesson here is clearly that winning is awesome, and losing sucks. And it’s better to not play the game and hope the winner will share her prize with you than it is to play, lose, cry, and get dragged home by your fire-breathing dragon mother. But I can not tell Neener that. I have to pin a stupid grin on my face and encourage her to play. Then, help her pick up the pieces of her shattered existence when some other kid manages to throw an inflatable pumpkin at her just as the scary Halloween non-music stops. And all of this must be done without losing it myself. Tricky. Let’s just leave it at that.

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2 responses

29 10 2008
nanny

I’ve thought long and hard about this problem and believe you me, neener is not the only child that goes through it. maybe the best approach to teach her about good sportsmanship is to involve her in a team sport like kiddie soccer or hockey or basketball. The old adage “there is no I in team may work for her . As apart of a team you are not solely responsible for loss or victory, yet there is competition. In a team all you can do is your best like everything else, but you work for a team victory not a personal victory.Just a thought.

6 11 2008
trish

bravo roo, and for neener, she got to be proud of her sister, and for you mom, you didn’t have to breathe fire that day, believe me you can save it for the next and the next time. Indigo kids are beautiful aren’t they?

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