Imparting motherly wisdom

2009-05-21 00:00

TEN minutes after I’d asked Lael if she wanted to run in the U7 cross-country, she wrote her victory speech.

“You might get dirty and you will have to wear dark blue boys shorts,” I warned her.

For a girl whose chief pleasure is to be clean and dressed in pink, this was grave news. But she nodded stoically and turned her attention to race tactics: “I think I’ll start off slow. When I run against Mireia, she says that I should go slow at the beginning so that I don’t get tired.”

That sounded like wise strategy for an eight-year-old cousin. “Maybe that’s true for long races like the Comrades, but this is a one-kilometre race. You must go as fast as you can, the whole way.”

On the day of the race, Lael ordered three slices of richly buttered toast. “You need to eat a lot before you run,” she explained. Then we climbed into the car and headed off to the hosting school. “How will I know where to run?” she asked as we drove. “There will be other runners in front of you, just follow them.” “But if I am in front there will be no one to follow. Will there be a motorbike to show me the way?”

As we pulled into the school parking lot, the winter clouds grew dark, an icy wind came up and the rain began to pelt down. And with the rain, all of my daughter’s self-confidence melted: “I think I’ll just watch today.”

“What?” I thought. “What, what, what? I gave up my rest time, to drive you all the way up here, to see you claim your victory and now you are not even going to try?”

I clapped my hand over my mouth before my thoughts became words. This was one of those key moments when I could either encourage, or thoroughly discourage, my child. I began fishing around in my pockets for some motherly wisdom. Hadn’t I stashed away some titbits of warm advice for just such a rainy day. Aha, here we go, here’s something: we are all winners.

No, no, that won’t work. It sounds suspiciously like something that a loser would say. Okay, what about this: you can do it.

Hmm, that doesn’t sound very convincing either. How many poor men and women have collapsed at 5 pm, 10 meters from the finish line, after hearing someone cheerily shout, “You can do it.” There’s nothing like a hollow lie to discourage you.

Hold on, here’s one that might work: try your best.

Oh now that seems more believable. It’s difficult to do, but at least anyone can actually do it.

“Lael,” I said, “just try your best. It doesn’t matter if you don’t win, just do the best you can do. And then we will go home and Dad, who was a Victor Ludorum in his day (although the cup was shared on account of a technicality), can train you. Then in the next race you will do better and in the following race, even better. But for now, just try your best.”

“Okay,” she agreed.

We walked towards a smiling teacher who informed us that the race was cancelled. Lael breathed a sigh of relief: “I didn’t want to get all muddy,” she explained as we drove home. “I’ll run in next week’s race, but I won’t run the Comrades. Can we watch it though?”

“Yes we can,” I said. And this time I know what I’ll be shouting at those 4.45 pm runners.

• Sarah Groves is a free-lance writer, based in Pietermaritzburg.

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