“Go, go, go,” I hear the yells and giggles from the other room as I put the last dish into the dishwasher. “You’ve got this Hannah! Faster, faster, you’re doing great!”
“Take that,” Ethan hollers with glee.
“NOOOO, how did you do that? That’s it, I’m coming for you,” warns another voice.
The interaction makes me smile. My stepchildren and two friends are piled in the living room having just returned from Target where they pooled their Christmas gift cards to buy a new video game, a rare show of solidarity and cooperation. They now sit shoulder to shoulder, each leaning forward in an attempt to make their Mario character race just a little bit faster.
Wiping my hands on a towel, I mosey in to join them. I perch on the nearby armchair to see what all the fuss is about. Colorful characters race through the course in their colorful cars through loop-d-loops and twists and turns, tossing turtles and banana peels along the way.
A checkered flag is waved as the last one crosses the finish line and the scores go up on the screen. As the trophy is handed out to the winning team, they relive the best moments of the race.
“Did you see how I took out your car with that squid ink?
“Oh I saw it,” came the reply, “you’ll pay for that next round.
“I need to make some changes to my car, it is NOT well suited for that course.”
The characters line up again at the starting line and gun their engines as the countdown plays on the screen: 3….2….1….GO. This time the characters begin to race through roads made of piano keys and other musical accoutrements. I sit happily by, listening to their banter, trying to make sense of what’s happening on the screen. I watch close calls, triumphs, frustrations, and power ups. I cheer here and there for the underdog and throw in the occasional, “That’s not a nice way to talk to your sister,” but for the most part I’m caught up in the moment, savoring this moment in time and all it has to offer.
“Your turn Sara.” The sentence catches me off guard.
Wait. What did he say?
“Yeah, you should try it,” another chimes in.
“Umm…I don’t think so. I haven’t picked up a video game controller in nearly 20 years and even after watching you for 30 minutes I don’t have a clue how to play,”
“That’s ok, just push this button here, move this switch there, you’ll catch on.”
A controller is pushed into my hand. Quick directions given. “I don’t know how to do this. I will look like an idiot. What is the slowest time anyone has ever completed a course? These controllers are clearly made for smaller hands. My cool bonus mom facade is about to crumble into a bajillion pieces and they will see the truth. I’m a fraud, carefully hidden behind my perfect mask.”
“Just remember to push the button marked with an X with your thumb, it’s what makes you accelerate. Otherwise you’ll just sit there.”
“An X? Where’s the X? Is this controller made for a left handed person? Why are all the important controls under my left thumb? I’m right handed. My left hand is nearly useless. What about all these other buttons? What do they do? Everywhere my fingers touch there’s a button. What if my car just sits there?”
“You got this. It’s ok if you’re not that good.”
“Easy for you to say kid, you’ve come in first place every single round. No secret shame happening in your head right now.”
On the screen even my character looks nervous, his rainbow mohawk giving him an air of toughness he doesn’t deserve. I can tell it’s a smokescreen, a distraction from the insecurities he hides inside. Just looking at him I can sense his trepidation, feel the sweat drip down his palms as he looks around wondering how he got lined up here among the big racers. I wipe my hands on my legs.
His colorful gokart reminds me of a bike I road in a parade once. I had been so proud of it at home with its streamers wound in and out perfectly between the wheel spokes. I rode with my head held high for miles until I got to the parade starting line and saw the other bikes. Those bikes had every color of streamer imaginable, putting my three colors to shame. They had tassels, and balloons, and bells covering every square inch. They glistened so shiny new my hand-me-down bike paled in comparison, making me feel small and insignificant.
“Oh great. This moment in time will play out just like that one. Once again I’m an imposter among giants.”
For a brief moment I glance at my stepdaughter Hannah. I was holding a controller because she had become frustrated with losing to the boys again and again, bristling even as they gave her encouragement. I could sense why. She’s wired a lot like me. Encouragement can feel patronizing to an overachieving perfectionist when your mind is filled with negative thoughts and self criticism.
“This is a chance for me to model a different message to her. A chance to be brave instead of shying away from something just because the world tells me if I can’t do it perfectly I shouldn’t do it at all. A chance to put my money where my mouth is and act as though I believe I am already enough, regardless of my performance in the next three minutes. I don’t need to make this race about me. It isn’t about me. It’s about having fun, letting go, and enjoying the moment. I can model that. For her, and for that little girl who felt her bike was inadequate for an entire parade because it didn’t seem to measure up.”
The countdown numbers begin to flash on the screen as I square my shoulders and start pushing buttons, familiarizing myself with the controller.
3….I’ve got this.
1….For my younger self and her carefully woven streamers. She was perfect even then.