Yesterday as the two boys and I rode our bikes home from their elementary school the two boys darted off away from me. I gave a half-hearted chase, but we were already back in our neighborhood and let them ride ahead; it’s part of the ever-lengthening leash I’m giving them, hoping they feel some autonomy in this age of not letting your kids leave the front yard. As they rounded the corner 100 yards ahead of me I heard the oldest start to scream.
The scream was not the scream of pain or panic, it was his angry scream. His little brother had done something to offend him, or otherwise make him angry.
I pedaled a little harder and caught up to him, as his little brother was still another 25 yards ahead of us. Panting through anger and fatigue my oldest son complained “he almost knocked me over.”
Knowing this boy as I do I did not ask for more details. Instead we rode home silently: me thinking about how I was going to handle this, and he fuming.
We pulled our bikes into the garage and prepared to go inside the house. As my youngest was just about to open the door to go inside I stopped him, “Wait! What happened out there?”
My youngest had that look of “oh man, I’m in trouble now. A look that would not leave his face for a while.”
I was expecting a back and forth, he said / he said exchange between the two of them but instead it was just the oldest venting that his younger brother almost knocked him off his bike.
I was confused, and a bit miffed that my oldest boy was making such a big deal out of this. “Did he knock you off your bike?”
“He almost did.”
“That’s not what I asked. Did he knock you off your bike?
“Did he touch any of the wheels on your bike?
“Did he touch your body?
“Then what’s the problem?”
There was a long pause, and the look on his little brother’s face still had not changed from one of expecting to get in trouble for something.
Finally my oldest started to speak. I was expecting one of his cockamamie explanations but instead he explained, “I guess I was a little too competitive with my little brother, and I was upset that he passed me.”
Now I was silent. That was the last thing in the world I expected out of his mouth. Hell, I wouldn’t expect that out the mouth of a 40 year-old.
I put my fist out for a fist pump from him. He did. Then I grabbed him and gave him a hug.
“That was a very mature thing to say.”
His little brother came in called “group hug!”
He was relieved that he wasn’t getting into trouble, and all of us were relieved because this didn’t end in some row where no one was happy afterward.
The three of us had a neat conversation about competition: about how it helps you push yourself harder, and how it’s OK to be competitive, but that to be competitive you don’t have to be angry. You can actually have fun when you’re being competitive. But I also gave my oldest something to make him feel better about how reacted to competition: a story about how I, his dad, never learned to have fun with competition until I was about 40, and that he was way ahead of me in learning how to have fun with it.
We had two more group hugs, and then it was time for the boys to get an after school snack.