My son Evan lunged for me, and I stepped to the side just in time for his hand to whiff through the air.
“I’m gonna get you!” he yelled, whiffing again.
When my kids are trying to tag me, I just take one step to the side and they miss every time. I’m like Keanu Reeves from The Matrix, their hands always hitting the air where I used to be.
“You’re too fast, Daddy!” they’ll yell as they wind up again, telegraphing their next move three seconds in advance.
Really, the whole point of having kids is so you can feel athletically superior for doing completely unremarkable things, because kids have no frame of reference. Toss a yogurt cup into the gaping maw of the trash can from four feet away, and to them, you’re LeBron James.
Last week, though, one month after his seventh birthday, Evan didn’t give up. He lunged again, I tried to move, and he connected.
“Got you!” he said as my world crumbled. It was the first time he’d caught me fair-and-square. I knew the day would come when he’d start beating me at things, I just thought maybe he’d lose a baby tooth first.
This turn of events was especially unexpected at Evan’s age because, back when I was a kid, my dad crushed me at every game we played well into my teens. Some parents let their kids win. Not my dad. He could tell that life would give me plenty of opportunities to lose, and he wanted to make sure I was really good at it. The game didn’t matter: tennis, basketball, soccer, Battleship – I was the Michael Phelps of losing.
“Why do I only remember losing all the time? Did you ever let me win?” I asked him recently. I had only fond memories of the countless drubbings he’d given me, since they were quality-time drubbings, but he’s such a supportive parent, I wondered if he was at all conflicted about being the Harlem Globetrotters while I was the Washington Generals of our household.
“No, I never let you win, but I tried to keep it close enough so that you’d still want to play. I didn’t want you to win, but I wanted you to think you could,” he said.
That’s an important life skill, thinking that you might be able to win, even though you can’t. That’s probably why my favorite book as a kid was The Little Engine That Actually Couldn’t.
Regardless of the outcome, the most important thing is to get out there and play with your kids. Spend as much quality time with them as you can when they’re young, because before you know it, the time will come when you can’t effortlessly defeat them. You need to rack up as many victories as you can before they start putting up a real fight.
With my four-year-old son, Zack, I worry that I’ve already started losing to him, too, without even realizing that I’m competing. Last week, as I was standing in front of the toilet, putting it to its intended use, Zack ran in beside me, pulled down his pants, and started peeing at the same time. If you’re a parent of small children, this will not sound weird to you, because you also have no privacy and/or dignity left in your life.
“Hey there, buddy,” I said, finishing and taking a step back.
“I’m still going! I win!” he said.
“There’s really no losing in peeing, buddy. Everybody wins,” I said.
“No, you lose,” he replied, matter-of-factly. Then he pulled up his pants and ran off to take his victory lap. Pretty sure I can still beat him at Battleship, though.
You can let Mike Todd win for once at firstname.lastname@example.org.