On being a loser, comfortably

[What I ate for breakfast today: an egg, jasmine rice, beet greens--and a little bit of crisp-fried chicken skin, which, you guys, is so underrated.]

Kamal has been really into winning races: to the car, to his bedroom, to the chicken coop. It's been fun, and we've maybe exploited it a little (OK, a lot) to get him to hustle while we're getting from point A to point B. But yesterday he cried when Adam's truck was in the driveway when we pulled in, because it meant Daddy had "won" and we'd "lost." And we reflected: maybe we don't want to reinforce this particular thing.

So last night, while he played in his bubble bath, I heard myself saying to Kamal: "You know, the way races work, there's always one winner. Everybody else who doesn't win loses the race. That means there's lots of losers, and just one winner. So it's okay to be a loser, because you'll have lots of company."

I stand by this--it is okay to lose, and it better be, because nobody wins every race--but it's not exactly the message I'm hoping to deliver. What I want Kamal to know is that in real life there are no races. There's no finish line, except death, which isn't a thing to rush towards. I want him to understand that real life is not binary--you don't win or lose. You don't succeed or fail. You don't get a happy ending or a sad ending, because there are no endings, not really. All we get is the moment we're in, and the only true competition is whether our best selves can make the best of this moment, over and over again. 

I want him to know this kind of continuum of happiness, that it's part and parcel of heartache, that it's not a cause nor an effect so much as a rich and subjective network. I want him to know money is a tool, not a goal. I want him to be happy, and even more essentially, I want him to know he's happy. 

And all the other big things parents want for their child: finding meaning, being present, being loved, building community, doing good work and good works--of course I want those for him. But I want them because they will inform his happiness. 

And you know, I think he already gets it, on some level. Because about a year ago, Adam and I figured we'd introduce him to the concept of money, and we offered him one shiny penny for every ten weeds he pulled in the garden. His face lit up at the word "shiny," and he toddled off and returned a few minutes later with a bunched handful of approximately ten plant fragments. As promised, he received a shiny penny for these efforts. 

"Now," we told him, "pull another ten weeds, and you'll get another! You can have as many pennies as you want--just keep up the good work."

Kamal considered. He beamed at his penny. Then he carefully stuck it in his pocket, said, "No thanks," and wandered off.  All he wanted was the single penny. Having got it, he was done working. (Not a capitalist, then, I figure.)

 I don't know what it all means for who he's going to grow up to be--maybe he'll be a marathon racer; maybe he'll be a labyrinth pacer. Maybe he'll reinvent astronomy or busk in a train station or vote for a Republican candidate. It's too soon to tell. What I do know is none of it matters more than whether or not he's happy.  And I feel like he will be, as long as somewhere in his adult self there remains that toddler that pockets his one shiny penny and then turns away into the sunshine, trusting in the sure and easy feeling of enough. 



boy+fig.* *There are no actual pockets in this photo.