How I Learned to Love Coming in Last

Only a parent could relish being the rotten egg. But I do, for lots of reasons, only one of which is that I can spare my kids -- at least for that one moment -- from having to hold the stinky title.
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Mother helping daughter to ride bicycle
Mother helping daughter to ride bicycle

At our house these days, it's all about the race. I don't mean the proverbial rat race, or the race to finish the day's tasks. I mean a literal race.

Last one to the car is a rotten egg.

Last one to the end of that sidewalk is a rotten egg.

Last one to say "rotten egg" is a rotten egg.

There are a few forces at play in this. First, Devan is trying to hold on to and reinforce her waning physical dominance over her little brother. Notwithstanding a nearly four-year age gap, Kian quite literally punches in her weight class now, and (if our pediatrician can be credited on this) is making steady progress on his way to an eventual 6'3". While she still has the intellectual upper hand, Devan's days of imposing her will by sheer physical might, speed, and agility are numbered.

Conversely, Kian is realizing he might not be forever relegated to second place in these endless daily contests after all. Some of them don't even draw on running speed or physical strength, such as "last one to brush teeth" or "last one to finish cereal." And he's closing in on those that do: if Devan doesn't give herself a sneak head start by being the announcer, he can beat her in a pure foot race. And no one dares take him on in a battle of "Mashoonga," where one jousts with an opponent using foam-covered bats. As every member of our household has learned, you don't want to end up the "last one" on the business end of Kian's Mashoonga stick.

As a parent, there is a wince of pain that comes as you see one child defeat the other, even in these silliest of match-ups. You secretly cheer for the underdog, only to turn around and empathize when your stunned and saddened first-born encounters the displacement of losing. You tell yourself that each is learning important life lessons. You repeat the same platitudes again and again, which go fully ignored -- that it's having fun together that matters. You dry tears, scoop ice cream.

And if you're like me, anyway, you insert yourself into the mix from time to time, with the result that (no spoiler alert needed): both kids win. No need for the loser's revisionist taunt, "First is the worst, and last is the best!" Because while one child may have claimed first and the other second, there you are -- Mom or Dad -- and you are what they each most wanted to avoid.

You are last.

You are the rotten egg.

Only a parent could relish being the rotten egg. But I do, for lots of reasons, only one of which is that I can spare my kids -- at least for that one moment -- from having to hold the stinky title.

I actually like coming in last.

Devan and Kian, should you greet this with shock, or worse, conclude your mom just has no game... Let me explain:

First of all, I'm tired. And I'm old. I had my day, probably too many days, lined up at a painted mark on school blacktop, waiting for the starting whistle. I was never that fast to start with, but I gave it my all and usually finished in a respectable middle of the pack. I always wished to do better. Today, I love that either one of you can dust me by about the 10th yard. The truth is, if we're talking a foot race, I don't have to try to let you win.

But I can live with slowing down, mostly because I peaked late. Surely the fastest I ever ran in my life was when one of you toddled toward some hazard, be it the end of a sidewalk on a busy street, or the top of an ungated set of stairs. I managed a respectable sprint to keep pace with you, Devan, as you pedaled without training wheels for the first time, and I captured the triumph on video. Let those be my personal bests.

Besides, I like the view from last place. When you are halfway up a climbing wall, I can watch your feet find the next foothold and each muscle flex in tandem to carry you higher. When you scramble ahead on a path, I get to see your arms spread in the sun and the dust kicked up by your sneakers. I like that you call back to me to tell me what you've found. When you take the occasional spill, I've already witnessed it from behind. I can wait for you to spring back to your feet, or scurry to scoop you up, already knowing you haven't broken skin.

I marvel that I helped build the two bodies charging into that moment's adventure. I take joy that you still need me.

I'll gladly bring up the rear.

Finally, if there is anything that is going to take me down, may it be the two of you. Science tells us that our bodies can begin shrinking around the time we hit our peak height in our 30s. The causes include loss of bone density, which we can fight by eating the right things and exercising. And Daddy and I will do those things. We had you later in life, and we really want to travel and enjoy our lives when you've grown. Mostly, we hope to see the two of you embrace the joy of throwing a checkers game.

But even this physical diminishment makes perfect sense to me. And if I am to shrink, may it be under the accumulated weight of hundreds of shoulder rides, and chicken fights in Great Pond, and boosts of your 50-pound bodies so you can glimpse what is over a fence. You can press us ever closer to the Earth. We want you to see what lies beyond. And you can always look back when you need to, and I'll be right there: the happiest, shrunken loser you ever saw, claiming my own kind of victory.

Way back in last place.

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