Stolen Moments ~ Welcome to my blog

His competitive streak – a personal reflection on reinvention

Now and then, I choose to write a somewhat more personal post on this blog, and for some obscure reason I woke today with this huge urge to do just that.

Those of you who have followed my blog for some time know I am the proud mother of four—now very grown-up—children. Personally, I’d have liked five, but when I tentatively raised the issue with hubby he gave me a desperate look and said “One more? No!”

In retrospect, I am happy he put his foot down. Four is quite enough, I think. Especially now that some of them have started to procreate in turn.

If you ask my older kids, they’ll all say the youngest had it easiest. If you ask Youngest Son, he disagrees, reminding me just how hard he had to fight to keep up with his siblings. In our household, we don’t give away wins, and as Youngest Son very much wanted to play games like RISK or Monopoly with his older brothers and sister, he lost. A lot. At dinner, he inhaled his food, worried that otherwise he wouldn’t get seconds. Of course he’d get seconds, I’m his bear mama!

Youngest Son started school, and when he was in second grade I went to meet with his teacher for the recurring parent-teacher meeting. I knew Youngest Son was doing well in school—a benefit of having three older siblings is that there was always someone to ask if you needed help with your homework before Mum and Dad got home.
“Oh, yes,” the teacher said. “He is very much at the top of the class in most subjects. Well, maybe not handwriting.”
Probably because Youngest Son saw no point to trying to write beautifully.
“But I must say I have a bit of a problem with his competitive streak,” the teacher said, glancing at Youngest Son who was sitting beside me.
Really? I said nothing, but raised my brows, expecting her to clarify.
“Well, it isn’t nice, is it?” the teacher continued, a bit flustered by my silence. “I mean, one shouldn’t always want to win.”
Youngest Son and I shared a look. What world did this woman inhabit?
“I have a very strong competitive streak,” I told the teacher. “And I must say it has served me very well.”
“Hmm,” the teacher said. “But sometimes, you lose and you should be able to do that without a tantrum.”
Very true. Youngest Son and I had a long conversation about the importance of being a good loser—and winner—on the way home.

Youngest Son always compared himself with his older brothers, four and six years older respectively. What they did, he wanted to do, which was how he ended up playing handball, just like his big brothers.

an early form of handball played by Roman women

Youngest Son was very good at handball—so good even his eldest brother admitted Youngest Son was the true talent of the family.

Youngest Son was also very dedicated. He practised and practised, he never missed a training. When he was thirteen or so, he was recruited by one of the more successful teams in our region. The only problem was their training was in another city than the one we lived in. But he really, really wanted to do this—he was aiming high, for the Olympic team—and we agreed he could change teams, assuming his school grades did not suffer.

“already the ancient Greeks played handball” – well, sort of

For two years, he would rush home from school, eat, take his bike to the railway station, take the train to the next city, hop on a bus that took him to the training centre, train for two hours and do it all in reverse, twice a week at minimum with games in the weekends. What time he had left, he dedicated to his schoolwork. Let’s just say his competitive streak was helping him go after his dream.

He entered high school and chose to attend a high school which had handball as an extra. He did well. He was big, he was strong and he was so, so determined.

And then, one day, we got a call. Youngest Son was away playing a match, and his voice almost broke when he told us we had to come and get him, “because something was wrong with his knee”. His anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) had snapped . . .

He had surgery. The surgeons advised him to stop playing handball. I tried to say the same thing, but Youngest Son looked at me and said “This is my dream, Mamma. Of course I have to try again.”

He did physio. Boy, did he do physio. He went to every training with his team despite not being able to play (but he developed a very impressive overarm shot) and a year later, he was back on the team. Youngest Son was elated.

And then, one day we got a call. “You have to pick me up,” Youngest Son said, and he didn’t have to tell us what was wrong, we heard it in his voice.

Hubby went to fetch him. When the door opened, I stood in the hall with my arms wide open and my beautiful, big, strong boy—so much taller than me—fell into them and cried. I cried too. Duh, I’m his bear mama, remember? And this was a very young man realising the dream he had been pursuing for close to a decade had just gone up in smoke.

He had surgery again. This time, the surgeons forbade him from playing handball again unless he wanted to end up as an invalid before he was thirty.

A couple of weeks after his ACL snapped for the second time he hobbled into the kitchen and told me he had changed his classes for the last semester. “Now that I won’t make it as a handball player, I need to make sure I can get into University immediately after graduating.”
I blinked. “Err…” I mean, he was entitled to grieve his lost dream, wasn’t he?
“No time for that,” he said.

So Youngest Son did physio again. Lots of physio. But instead of attending all those trainings, he added class after class to his coursework. Of course he aced it. That competitive streak of his was helping him find another way forward, now that his first and preferred option was gone.

He graduated from high school with the grades he needed to choose whatever university he wanted. His mama was so, so proud. His papa was just as proud—and his siblings held a collective speech that left us all in tears when they expressed just how proud they were of him too.
Youngest Son had dreamed big.
He’d gone after the dream with determination.
He’d had his dream crushed, but he didn’t just roll over. No, he got back on his feet, gritted his teeth and somehow forged ahead.
Was he pursuing a new dream?
No. He was building himself a future.

And I, dear peeps, believe part of what helped him to move forward was that competitive streak of his. Youngest Son didn’t give up. People who want to win rarely do.

These days, Youngest Son has graduated from university, has a good job and is content with his life. But I know for a fact he still finds it very, very hard to watch handball on TV. After all, that could have been him, wearing the National Team Jersey. But the lesson he learned—the lesson his entire family learned—is that sometimes life throws you a curveball, and all you can do is choose how you handle the disappointment. Youngest Son chose to reinvent himself.

Should Youngest Son ever read this, I want him to know that his bear mama rarely thinks of all this without wiping a tear or two from her eyes. His bear mama loves him so, so much—and is so inordinately proud of the fine young man he has become. Jag älskar dig—men det vet du nog redan!


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