She has big hopes and they stretch out before her, waiting to become her reality. Valedictorian. Varsity letters. Lead in the play. Class officer. With only a week to go as a high school freshman, my daughter has decided what will constitute success in the years ahead. She can see the obstacles in front of her but she's not afraid. When there are hurdles, she'll jump them.
I'm thinking about her amazing spirit, admiring her drive and determination when the “CRACK” of the starter's gun sends her sprinting down lane two, roughly 300 meters from where I sit in the stands. Suddenly, the hurdles aren't theoretical; they're real, and there are eight of them between my lanky runner and the finish line.
The staggered starting gate makes her position on the track appear bleak. She won't catch the racers in the other lanes until about the second curve, and even then, she'd better be moving faster than usual. This is the Regional track meet — the competition is brutal as the area's best athletes attempt to qualify for the State finals.
She was thrilled she was invited to run since her performance in the hurdles has been spotty. She has potential, but seems to need the perfect confluence of calories, sleep, disposition and Divine intervention to get her time under about 57 seconds. She wants to run it in 52.2 tonight.
But she's reached other goals before. She thinks she can do it.
Now, as she's making the second turn, her face comes into view and I can see she's struggling to catch the runner ahead of her and stay in the hunt. She's clearly not going to score points for her team, but the heat is running at a pace that might help her make her time.
Unfortunately, the hurdles keep getting in the way. And now, as she jumps the fifth one, her trail leg drops and she catches the bar. She's down.
Her face registers immediate shock, like she's thinking, “Oh my gosh, I'm not running, I'm on the ground. Why am I on the ground? Am I hurt? I have to get up…” and before she knows it, she's moving again, but not well, and though she jumps the remaining hurdles, she's already so disappointed it's all she can do to hold back her tears as she crosses the finish line. Last. By a lot.
The parents around us offer encouragement as we get up to head around the track and comfort her. Most of them have older kids. They've been where we're going now.
When we get to the other side, my daughter melts into my arms and cries — heavy, wet sobs. Her elbow is scraped a little, but mostly her pride is wounded and her dreams are dashed. She envisioned pulling it out — earning her varsity letter and qualifying for States all at once. Feeling like a winner.
I tell her I'm proud of the athlete who got up off the track and finished the race. I say hurdles aren't easy and she's still learning. I remind her there is one meet left in the season. I allow as how the whole thing stinks and there's not much I can say to make it better. I wipe her tears, offer her food, get her to laugh.
It's some of the toughest parenting I have to do because my own tears are stuck in my throat, making it hard to swallow and harder to smile.
I hate when her heart breaks and all I can do is dust her off after a failed effort, knowing how much she wanted to succeed.
Then again, success has many measures. Later, after a hot dog, she strolls over to the stands and snuggles up with me against the night air. We cheer for her friends and she's ecstatic when they win their races. “Shouldn't you be hanging with the team?” I ask.
“No,” she smiles, dropping her head on my shoulder. “I'm good.”
(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from first grade to freshman year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She also has worked in marketing and public relations positions in corporate and agency settings. Mostly, she spends a lot of time in her mini-van, where the real work of parenting actually happens. Learn more about Marybeth and her column at www.marybethhicks.com.)