The Competitives

The Competitives

Right after Labor Day, the teachers went in to school to prepare their classrooms. Becky was new to the faculty, having just moved to town from Maine. When it was time for lunch, she felt awkward joining the groups of obvious friends who gathered in several rooms for lunch. Leaving the pretty old building for a nearby park, she found a bench in the sun and opened her small brown paper bag. She was ravenous and devoured her cucumber sandwich before starting on an apple. 

Two women sat on a bench close by, watching their children, who were feeding ducks in a small pond. The children laughed at the way the ducks raced for the bits of bread they were throwing.

One of the mothers turned to the other. “Guess what? Derek scored in the ninety-ninth percentile for height at his last check up,” Fran said with pride.

“How funny! So did Tammy,” her friend Barbara retorted. 

“How can that be?” Fran asked. “Derek towers over her. Are you sure your doctor was paying attention?” 

“Fran, Tammy is four. Derek is five. Of course he’s taller.” 

“Okay, I get it. But who is tall in your family? Think about it. John isn’t. You aren’t.   Bill and I are tall people so Derek is going to continue to be taller than his classmates. I can’t say the same for Tammy.” 

Barbara was not to be topped. “Well, Tammy is really articulate. Her Pre K teachers can’t get over how well she speaks. She is sounding out words too.”

Listening, Becky wondered if either of the children would be in her kindergarten class. They looked cute, even if their mothers couldn’t stop bragging.

Derek was still checking out the ducks. “Tammy, let’s each choose a duck and see which is better. I’m a boy so I get the cool looking green one. You get the plain brown one. Okay?” 

“Fine,” answered Tammy. “I know girls are smarter and can do more stuff.”

The male mallard ducked his neck into the briny water and came back swallowing. “Go duck,” Derek yelled. “You are better at finding food.” 

“Look at mine!” screamed Tammy. “She’s way faster. My duck is winning! Yay!” 

“Oh, who cares?” Derek kicked sand into the water. “They’re just stupid ducks.” 

Derek picked up some small flat stones and started skipping them on the still pond. 

“Tammy, watch this!” he shouted. “My stone skipped three times. I’m really good.” 

“Watch me, okay Derek?” Tammy made her smooth stone skip four times. “I beat you Derek!” she crowed. “Four skips!” She stuck her tongue out at him and did a little dance. 

“Who cares?” Derek took off running. “Race you to our moms!” he yelled back at her.

When he reached the bench, Derek turned. “I beat you, slow poke. Boy, are you slow.”

“It wasn’t a fair race,” Tammy screamed. “You had a head start.”

Becky, sitting quietly on her own bench, drinking a bottle of Poland Spring, began to hope the children went to a whole different school. They looked a lot cuter than they acted. Then she felt sorry for her thoughts. “I could try and help them,” she told herself. “But I don’t know if I could help the mothers.” 

Fran smiled at her small son and turned to her friend. “That’s another thing, Barbara. The doctor said Derek was unusually coordinated. He’ll do well in just about any sport when he gets old enough to be on a team.” Fran smiled smugly. 

“Sports, sports,” Barbara said disparagingly. “Not creative. You should see Tammy dance. Her ballet teacher says she is New York bound. No question. She is so poised when she dances, even at four.”

Becky checked her watch. It was almost time to go back to the school. She didn’t want to hear any more of the conversation anyway. As she got up from the bench, she saw Derek shove Tammy. Barbara took him by the shoulders. 

“Barbara, please keep your hands off Derek. It isn’t nice to hold a grudge either, Tammy,” Fran barked as Tammy tried to push him back. 

“Fran, really, you know Derek shoved Tammy, right?” 

“Come on. It was a total set up,” snapped Fran. The women stood up to go, each holding her child’s hand.

As they walked toward their cars, Fran turned. “Hey Barbara, I forgot to tell you, Bill got a big promotion!”

“Great,” replied her friend. “Maybe now you can buy a bigger house.”

The cars backed up quickly and seemed to race out of the park.

Becky saw Derek pump his little fist as Fran’s SUV reached the exit first.

Becky just sighed and shook her head. The time in the park had been an eye opener. Becky hoped she could help the children in her new class feel secure and happy with themselves. 

“I want them to root for their friends when happy things come their way,” she thought. “Not for everything to be a competition.”

Becky walked up the little knoll to her new school. A few teachers were returning at the same time. 

“Becky, if you want to have lunch with us tomorrow, we know a pretty place by the brook.” 

“That sounds great. I’ll bring some cookies.”

“Yum! Thanks, Becky.”

Walking down the hall together, one teacher said, “Let us know if you need anything. We’re always willing to help. ”

“I will thanks. See you later,” Becky said smiling gratefully.

Written by: Anne Martine Cook, Managing Partner & Mom, with 35+ years experience teaching nursery school children.

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