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July 20, 2007

Brer Donald

(Admin note: Harry Potter mania has officially come upon our family. My wife and son will be at a midnight book release, and I’m going to chase down the mailman as soon as he pulls onto our street with my own copy of the book tomorrow.

I’ve had a couple of requests to refrain from announcing plot details here, for the benefit of people who haven’t read the book yet. And I wholeheartedly sympathize. So if it turns out that Aunt Petunia is a wizard, or Nagini is a horcrux, or Snape helps to kill Voldemort – rest assured, you won’t hear it from me. At least not for a while.)

So that’s that. If you need me for the next few days, I’ll be at Hogwarts. Now on with today’s post …)

**

This is Brer Rabbit:


He’s the favorite companion of my 6-year-old daughter. She developed an affection him after visiting Splash Mountain at Disneyland last year, and she’s become completely fascinated with the Uncle Remus stories.

(And although he is dearly beloved, Brer Rabbit is in a rather tight competition for “overall favorite rabbit” in my daughter’s mind. Bugs Bunny has been closing in very fast lately – but, as I’ve become fond of saying lately, that’s a topic for a future post.)

This is Brer Bear and Brer Fox:



They go along with Brer Rabbit, and, by extension, with my daughter. Our family hears all of them speaking to each other, and watches all of their various games and activities from one day to the next. They appear to have many things to bond over.

The relationship between Rabbit, Fox, and Bear can get fairly complicated. Sometimes Brer Fox tries to trap and eat Brer Rabbit. Other times the two of them collaborate to trick Brer Bear. Sometimes Brer Bear tries to help Brer Fox catch the rabbit, and other times he just interferes (intentionally or otherwise) with the whole process.

Most of the time, all three of them get along well together – but other times, they’re each other’s biggest annoyance. In that regard, they’re like any other tightly knit, but slightly dysfunctional family.

As I mentioned, all three are the property of my oldest daughter. It’s a noteworthy arrangement, if only because the situation mirrors the ebb and flow of my own relationship with this same girl.

When she was born, I didn’t feel the least bit prepared to raise a girl. Six years later, I can’t say that I’ve improved that much. It’s not that I’m not crazy about her - it’s just that sometimes I find it hard to relate.

My daughter is perceptive and shrewd, selfless and thoughtful, nurturing and compassionate – none of which I’d exactly consider my strong suits. She’s artistic and creative, emotional and passionate, tempestuous and combustible – whereas I tend to be logical, even-keeled, and level headed.

I try to connect with her the best I can. I share the details of my life, and look for common interests we can share to compensate for our differences. And being the compassionate person she is, she tries her best to reciprocate. So we’ve bonded over cartoons and Jack Johnson music, pancake breakfasts and bike rides.

Sometimes she has difficulty with things I introduce to her - such as the half-mile race she did in May. (It’s a long story, but you can read it here if you’re interested.) I tried to spin her experience into a lesson about the nature of competition, and showed her my marathon medals to show her that simply doing your best is its own reward.

But after several more days went by, I wondered if the lesson sunk in. Our discussion of the event had generally stopped, and I wasn’t sure if racing was something she’d stay interested in.

All of which brings us back to Brer Rabbit.

A few weeks after the race, my daughter showed me something she made for her favorite companion:



She went on to explain: “They all had a race in my bedroom – so I made this medal for him.”

At first I thought it was merely a cute gesture, but then I looked more closely, and realized I had almost overlooked the best part.

Brer Rabbit’s medal doesn’t say “winner” or “1st place”. It says “Yay for you!” Which, when you boil it all down, is exactly what every marathon or triathlon medal should say.

My best race memories don’t have anything to do with winning, or even earning an age group award. Rather, they recall the satisfaction of preparing well prior to the event, and performing to the best of my ability on race day. Those medals hang on my wall, and say “Yay for you!” to me every time I glace in their direction.

Curiously, the medals from my worst races tell me the same thing. There were days when I ran through illness or injury, through poor preparation, or through the self-induced implosion that accompanies a foolish race strategy (there are LOTS of those). But somehow in each of those races, I made it to the finish – and the medals from those races say “Yay for you!” for doing so.

And when I line up to do an Ironman in two weeks, I won’t pay any attention to who else is racing against me, or how I’m going to finish relative to everybody else. All of my competitors will be Brer Foxes or Brer Bears: sometimes they’ll help me, other times they’ll interfere and annoy me - but either way, we’ll be stuck with each other for a while.

I can’t really control what goes on around me – but I can anticipate problems and avoid dangerous situations and escape trouble just like a nimble rabbit. I’m going to race as well as I possibly can. Then as I finish, I’ll get a medal that says “Yay for you!” – and that will be prize enough for me.

So that’s the lesson I learned from Brer Rabbit, and from my daughter. Sometimes I’m so concerned with what I’m supposed to be teaching her, it doesn’t occur to me that she has a lot to teach me as well. I guess it’s a good thing she has her three best friends to help.

12 comments:

Wendy 7/20/07, 11:21 AM  

Yay for you indeed! And yay for her!

Backofpack 7/20/07, 12:47 PM  

Kid wisdom is the best widsom. It only requires us to pay attention, and to take it a step beyond the superficial. Yay for you for doing so!

Only two weeks to Ironman...wow! I can't wait hear all about it!

olga 7/20/07, 9:04 PM  

My, your daughter...is much wiser than majority of people I know, myself including. Where do we loose it while growing up? How can we bottle it up?
Thanks for the lesson.

rick 7/21/07, 1:11 AM  

Yay for all of us.

I just came back from my local wine bar where my bartender tried to convince me to take her place in the Full Vineman relay, she's an injured ultra runner. Mulling it over. I know better to make decisions under the influence of a glass of wine. Maybe I'll see you there. Marathons....that's just a long time to spend on asphalt.

Your daughter, so impressive. I'll have to look at my race souvenirs again with that mindset.

Robb 7/21/07, 8:00 AM  

Kids offer surprising insight don't they? I love this post.

Mike 7/21/07, 5:56 PM  

Awesome post Donald! Hopefully we both get a "YFY" medal in the next couple of weeks!!

Makita 7/23/07, 7:01 AM  

Yay! Another fabulous post! Kudos to you for not only setting a great example but for being open to learn from your children as well. Bravo!

momo 7/24/07, 6:05 PM  

yay for you, donald! your daughter may be different from you, but she is definitely your daughter.

hope you're resting up!

craig 7/24/07, 9:02 PM  

So true Donald. One of the most gratifying parts of parenting are the times when the stuff we try to teach them sinks in though we can't tell it at the time the lesson is delivered. And the lessons they teach us often hit us right between the eyes. Best wishes for your IM.

Dying Water Buffalo 7/26/07, 8:49 AM  

what a great post! Very well written, Donald. I am forwarding this to two of my friends... so happy I scrolled down to catch up on your writing!

:)
Court
er, Brer Court

Downhillnut 7/30/07, 9:20 PM  

I always have a hard time explaining how finishing a race feels, to those who have never done it. I have runner friends who just don't understand why I race. I try to tell them it's a "celebration of my training", but that just sounds hokey sometimes.

"Yay for you!" sounds so much better. Thanks to you and your daughter for helping me with that!

Darrell 8/5/07, 5:13 PM  

It is a shame that we forget some of the best and simplest parts of childhood as we mature to adulthood.

I think there is a little more artist in you than you admit.

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