Remember that old song, “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better?” Growing up as the youngest of five children, that somehow became my unofficial motto. Competitiveness can be a great asset, but can also be a tremendous downfall. Ask me how I know!
Years ago, my parents fell in love, got married and started a family. First a girl, then 20 months later a boy. Three years later, another little girl and 20 months later along came another little boy. Isn’t it cool how they had such evenly matched sets?
SEVEN YEARS later they had a girl (ME!). And 20 months later – nothing, nada, zilch. The other half of my set, my boy, my partner in crime and the yin to my yang failed to arrive. He just never showed up to the party. I was just the lone girl at the very long end of the pack.
It wasn’t all bad, I certainly got a lot of attention. My siblings taught me a lot of really cool things (especially things my parents didn’t necessarily want me to know), and I was very loved. However, there was definitely a “them” and “me” dynamic, and I hated being called the “baby”, the “little one” and most particularly, being told I “didn’t count.” Because I did count, very well, and I would loudly prove it, “One, two, three…” And then they would all roll on the floor laughing, which bewildered and upset me.
So I set out to prove that I was just as capable as anyone! I paid attention, I learned things and I was a pretty independent kid. My mom said I just about gave her a heart attack one day when we visited a church and she realized I was missing. I was two years old, and it turns out I’d found and checked myself into the nursery. I’d introduced myself to the workers, given them my parents’ names and was noshing a graham cracker when my frazzled mom finally found me.
I had to become competitive in a family that was already very competitive. If we played, we played to win. When we visited relatives for Christmas, we always played games as a huge group. It was fierce, and those are some of my fondest memories. But you can take a competitive nature a tad too far.
For instance, when a boy is flirting with you over a foosball table, he doesn’t necessarily want to be beaten 10-2 and have the girl yell, “In your face!” Strangely, many guys don’t find that at all attractive. Go figure. And I’m not necessarily saying I ever actually did that, but…
Or when you pull off a much higher grade on a paper or a test. Not that I wanted a guy who’d begrudge me that, but still.
There was the very first Pilates class I attended, where the instructor responsibly advised me to take it easy and even skip the more difficult poses while I was still beginning. And where I ignored her advice because I figured if she could do it, I could do it too, and just as hard and just as long. And I did! And then I couldn’t walk without excruciating pain for an entire week. I really, really should have listened to that nice lady.
But as the years have gone on, I am learning to channel that competitive drive into more productive channels. And you know, God knew what He was doing when He put me at the end of the pack and gave me a desire to keep up. Because the ability to do difficult things, to fight hard to achieve a goal and the desire to strive are all traits that are very handy to have as an autism mom.
Because I’ve had to fight hard to get my kids the resources they need to grow and develop to their potential. It’s exhausting, sometimes soul crushing, but I just have to keep going. Because they need a mom who will not take no for an answer when it should be yes, who can challenge officials and bureaucracies when they get it wrong, who will keep pace with what can sometimes be a grueling schedule of doctor’s visits, therapy appointments and assessments.
They need me, and I was honed through those years of trying to keep up with my big brothers and sisters. Striving to keep up when it was hopeless taught me a lot and helped to make me the woman I needed to be for my family. And, those same siblings are now some of my biggest cheerleaders. I love them with all my heart, they’re my best friends and I know I can always count on them for advice, sympathy and a good swift kick when I need it. Who knew?
It turns out God knew exactly where I needed to be, and exactly the circumstances I needed. Do I always get it right? Not by a long shot! Do I sometimes take the competitive thing too far? Yes, and I’m working on it. I’m not perfect, but I am the right mother for Hope and Gray.