Last night after dinner we played Blokus, a fantastic board game which awakens the competitive nature of Naomi and brings it, roaring, into the room. Naomi nearly always wins this game (or comes second to me, which she thinks of as an allowable loss) in part because she’s good and in part because she bullies the other players into not blocking a future place she might eventually want to use. We have not played it since our new devotion to helping her be a better sport. Last night was a magnificent opportunity. When it came down toward the end of the game, it looked like a miracle might happen. “Mommy,” Aidan began, “do you think I might actually win this game?” This had never happened before. “I hope you win,” I told him, smiling. “I hope so too! I never ever ever win blokus!” And with every turn, the question, asked with more and more glee: “Do you think I’m going to win?!?” Naomi looked at his pieces and hers and snarled at him, prompting a conversation about the point of playing games in the first place.
Last week, at Aidan’s bowling party, Aidan and his three friends had one lane, and Naomi and Michael and I had the other. Michael was on fire, bowling strike after strike. Naomi and I, er, were not even toasty, bowling mediocre frame after mediocre frame. And on Aidan’s lane, one of his friends was excellent, one was lucky, and Aidan and his friend M were both, well, neither excellent nor lucky. By the last frame, they were neck and neck, tied for last. Aidan was dancing with anticipation and, in his dancing, bowled badly—but very cheerfully. M tossed the ball out in front of him in an utterly skill-free way and got 4 pins down. We reminded him he had one more shot at it. He repeated the casual toss too soon and the ball hit the gate that sweeps the pins between attempts. We fetched someone to come and get the ball, stuck listlessly on the lane. And one more shot, with me muttering under my breath a hope that he wouldn’t knock over more than 4 more so that Aidan could at least be tied for last on his birthday (not a noble thing to admit, hoping a 6-year-old does badly, but there you have it). And, slooowly, the ball crept toward the last 6 pins and, slowly, nonchalantly, bumped into them so that they slowly toppled over. M had won his third place slot with a seriously lucky spare. I shot a quick glance at Aidan to see how he was taking it. “That was cool, M!” he said, jumping up and down. “You won me after all!”
At dinner at the bowling ally afterwards I watched to see whether Aidan would downplay the scores or try to get us to cast our attention elsewhere. But no. He was cheerfully talking about how he almost won against M but that last ball prevented it. When others pointed out that perhaps you wouldn’t think of it as “winning” when you were vying for last place, Aidan smiled and shrugged. “We all had fun, though!” he said, and he was right.
So last night, with the thrill of victory right in his hands, Aidan was dancing with joy. “Are you excited about winning?” I asked. He nodded cheerfully. “But you don’t mind losing, do you?”
“Nope,” he said. “It’s really about whether you have fun that counts, not about who wins.” He looked down at the winning pieces in his hands and gave a sly smile. “Winning sometimes is pretty fun, though!” We talked about how Naomi was taking the loss at Blokus (not so well) and how she’d have taken the loss in bowling on her birthday if it had been her (we agreed it would not have been a pretty sight) and we wondered together what the difference between the two kids might be. I’m still wondering. Someday will they find the DNA pattern for competitive behaviour, the food I ingested lots of during my pregnancy with one of them but not the other? Or will each individual difference continue to be a marvel long into the future? I hardly know which of those futures to root for. But then, my favourite score is a tie…