Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Cross Country Gap

I have decided that the only way to have any consistency in behavioral outcomes when parenting your children is to have only one child. If you have more than one kid, they’ll be completely different. At least, ours are.

As far as we know, we didn’t do anything differently with our parenting from one kid to the next, so it must be the kids’ relationships with each other that change them. Either that or they’re totally different people with different hopes and dreams, but I fail to see how that could be the case based on how much they look alike.

Whatever the cause, we have three boys who are vastly different on the inside. You wouldn’t know it just by looking at them, though. I don’t like to brag, but they all have huge heads, which they get from me. Consequently, they’re all very smart, which, quite obviously, they get from their mother’s side. Facial features, intelligence, and adult-size bike helmets, however, is where their similarities end. Their differences lie in what motivates them.

Son Number One is motivated by remaining as still as possible while staring at any screen emitting light. One day he will make a fantastic computer programmer, or some other job that involves sitting perfectly still and not being required to spell.

Son Number Two is motivated by competition. He has a multitude of varied interests, centering mostly around total domination of any contest or hobby. It seems blatantly obvious that he will one day become a Navy SEAL.

Son Number Three is motivated by the voices in his head that tell him to scream wildly and run in circles. One day he will make either a good stunt man or a troublesome inmate.

The differences in Son Number One and Two are currently being highlighted every week by the sport of cross country. Much to Son Number One’s dismay, our elementary school does not have a four square league. Long distance running is the only “school sport” there is.

Unfortunately for our school’s overall win record (but fortunately for the coaches) the runners have to be in fourth, fifth, or sixth grade, so our second-grade Tasmanian Devil, Son Number Three, is not eligible yet.

Son Number One was eligible to run on the team last year, but we didn’t even bother mentioning it. This is a boy who, at five years old, told his soccer coach, “It would be great if I could just play goalie, because I don’t really like to run.”

Son Number Two, on the other hand, asked his soccer coach, “I’d like to score as many goals as possible, so can I play forward all game?”

(Son Number Three yelled to his soccer coach, “Wooooohoooo!” as he ran at the speed of light in the wrong direction.)

So, this year when it was time to sign up for cross country, I took Sons One and Two aside individually. I talked to Number One first.

“I’m signing you up for cross country.”
“I don’t want to run.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll have fun,” I lied. I agree with him. Running is never fun.
“No I won’t. It’ll be lame.”
“It’ll be fun,” I lied again. “Besides, your brother is doing it, and you don’t want him to get all the glory, do you?”
“OK, I’ll do it.”

Son Number Two took less convincing.
“I’m signing you and your older brother up for cross country.”
“I’m going to beat him.”
“Glad you’re on board.”

An elementary school cross country meet is an activity where 1500 kids, 20 coaches, and 2500 parents all show up at a park and wonder where the course is, while the one teacher in charge from the hosting school has a nervous breakdown and hides in the play structure.

A typical course is one mile, and is delineated by three traffic cones, one twenty-foot piece of caution tape, and two curved arrows spray-painted on the grass. The start of a race is like a scene out of Braveheart, but with less spears. Then they all get to the first turn and all bets are off. There are still nineteen kids missing from yesterday’s meet who took wrong turns somewhere on the course.

The main problem I am seeing with my sons’ performance at the meets is they are not in the same grade, and the heats are run by grade level. At the first meet, Son Number Two’s goal was to finish in the top twenty to get a medal, and he did. Son Number One’s goal was simply not to finish last. He also accomplished his goal. He finished second to last.

We have been to five meets already and Son Number One’s goal has not waivered. Just don’t be last. I would like him to aim a little higher, and train a little harder, but it’s not going to happen. Son Number Two is racing everyone in his heat. Son Number One could really care less about beating anyone except his younger brother. The physical ability is there. We’re just lacking motivation. Lacking drive.

The only thing that would truly motivate Number One is a format change in the race. If his younger brother was in the same heat, they would finish first and second. There is no doubt in my mind. I have seen them wrestle each other. It’s the only time Son Number One won’t let up.

So we obviously need to combine the fourth and fifth-grade boys. It’ll be a win-win across the board for our school, and for my oldest son’s confidence level. Plus, if we get more kids on the course at once, maybe fewer of them will get lost. I really hope they find at least some of those nineteen kids before the next meet.

I’ll try to suggest the fourth/fifth combo to the hosting team’s lead teacher at the next meet... if I can manage to find her in the play structure.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen

Check out The Smidge Page on Facebook. We like you, now like us back!

Also visit Marc’s Author Page  for all his books. Enjoy!


  1. It only gets better in high school: more runners, more parents, longer courses. But at least the route is more clearly marked...most of the time. My oldest runs, and she occasionally finds herself alone--like Alice traipsing through the Wonderland forest until the Cheshire Cat or Smoking Caterpillar guides her back to the trail...

  2. We need live feed drone footage of the course so we can actually see the race, instead of just the Braveheart start, seven minutes of standing around checking our email, and then the painful-looking finish. They could also have rescue drones to guide the wayward runners back on the course. I'm telling you, I should be in charge!