Belying my current less than athletic appearance, I once reigned as the 12 year old girls tennis champion in Lexington, Kentucky. I was a bit of a tennis junkie, watching every slam and open carried on our pre-cable-console-complete-with-stereo-tv.
And I looked the part for sure. I had a wooden Slazenger racket and Adidas Stan Smith tennis shoes, and I was rarely without a Billie Jean King looking visor.
My folks were smart enough to make sure we had summer lessons for activities in which we showed an interest. Since there were no lessons for reading, which is what I spent most of my time doing, I suppose tennis was my only other option.
We spent mornings on the courts, getting a little parks and rec type instruction, making sure to take lots of water breaks, in a time when nobody had a Yeti, and we waited in line at the fountain, hoping the weak stream of water would be cold. As August approached, we toiled through challenge matches in the southern humidity to earn a bracket spot, and the tournament began.
There was no magical Wimbledon-like setting, just the old acrylic coated green asphalt courts with nets that had seen better days. I don’t remember every opponent, but I am sure I must have received a forfeit or two along the line, some other pre-teen begging off a match that day, claiming her mouth hurt too much from the previous day’s visit to the orthodontist, really just wanting to stay home and work on her baby oil and iodine tan or ride her bike with friends.
The winner got an 8 inch trophy and free entry into the following year’s tournament, which were great prizes for a 12 year old. The winner also got a healthy dose of self-esteem, a pretty good memory to talk about at Happy Hours and family bragging sessions many years later, and the perfect entry into one of those ‘Three truths and One Lie’ getting to know you games we are forced to play when we are in a new group.
Literally no one ever guesses I have been a 12 year old tennis champion. Once I listed the tennis championship, my ability to recite Eugene Field’s 32 line poem The Duel from memory, and the fact that I once played the piccolo as my truths, and then listed my skydiving hobby as the big whopper, and they still picked tennis as the lie. Go figure.
As of late, I have been looking for somewhat smaller victories. For instance, just a couple of weeks ago, on two separate occasions, I finished my morning cup of coffee while it was still warm, without a visit to the microwave to re-heat it. All you fast coffee drinkers, those willing to scald your tongues, will never understand the perfect coffee drinking window, where the beverage is not too hot to swallow, yet not cold enough to offend. Never mind that one of those cups of coffee was actually my husband’s cup that I just thought was mine.
I am also celebrating the small win of keeping track of my paperback book through the entire four weeks it took me to read it, as my memory about where I have left things is not as good as it once was. I am an avid reader, one who appreciates a variety of genres and authors. But I don’t have a lot of spare time for reading-which is not to say I don’t think I will have the time- so my books become my traveling companions.
If I drive my daughter to a lesson, a rehearsal, or a practice, I take my paperback because I might have time to read in the car. If I head to the dentist for yet another crown (trust me, I am full-blown royalty), I pack that novel for a little reading time while the Novocain takes effect.
And sometimes, that means I can’t quite remember where I have last had my book. Usually I have to check bags, my bedside table, the family room, and the car before I find it. Once I found my book in the laundry hamper, and it wasn’t even a dirty novel. See what I did there?
Saturday morning, I found I had exactly one hour to myself. I pondered the possibilities. Continue my advance meal planning? Try to create my Christmas budget? Exercise? Nah, none of those are any fun. Finish my novel! That’s it! And lo and behold, I walked right to the shelf where I had placed it for safe-keeping. I will take the win, even if the novel didn’t end exactly the way I had hoped.
Other small successes come in the area of biting my tongue. Since sarcasm really is my native, primary language and full scale English comes a little less naturally, I often find myself in situations where my sarcasm would be fitting, but perhaps not appreciated.
Here is the short list of places I did not use my sharp tongue just this week: waiting in line inside a Starbucks when the barista called out the name Bambi (Come get your coffee, DEER, I thought); at the gas station where I had to go in to get a receipt because it didn’t print at the pump, and the clerk said, “I guess this didn’t print at the pump?” (No, I just came in because I enjoy the hot dogs on rollers combined with coffee brewing and antiseptic bathroom cleaner smell that convenience stores have, I thought); and at my husband’s football game when the opponent scored and a very vocal critic informed all of us in earshot that we should have tackled that guy before he got into the end zone (I can’t put in a family paper what I thought on this one). Some victories are truly hard earned.
The final area where I am happy with some miniscule triumphs is in raising a teenager. Those of you who have completed this arduous journey know it is not for the faint of heart. The Vegas odds makers won’t even make book on a parent’s chance of surviving the teen years unscathed.
My daughter recently started back to school, a tenuous parenting time. Should I ask if she would like to find something new to wear on the first day? Is a trip to buy school supplies too babyish? Are really clean white tennis shoes still a thing?
I decided to play it cool…and to tell a little white lie. I saw a backpack I knew she would really like. I also knew that if we were together and I pointed it out, she would no longer like it. I bought that backpack, took it home, tucked it in the guest room closet on a shelf and began my plan. That night I asked if she would need a new backpack for school.
“Probably,” she mumbled. At least, I think that is what she said. I was keeping my distance, because sometimes if I breathe or blink too loudly it irritates her.
“Oh, wait,” I said. “Didn’t we buy one last spring? Where would we have put that?” I was Academy Award convincing in my ditzy mom brain search.
“Maybe,” she said. “But it’s not in my room,” to which I thought, “And with all that mess, I am sure you would know,” but of course I didn’t say it, because as you might remember, I am no longer being sarcastic.
“I might have put it in the guest room closet,” I say, as if it is an afterthought, so light, so casual, so airy. She doesn’t move immediately because a part of her teenage persona is to never show excitement in the presence of an adult. But when she finally has to go get her phone charger because something could be happening on Instagram that she will miss and her phone needs some juice, she goes to the bedroom and looks for the backpack.
“Here it is,” she says, holding it up for examination. “Yeah, this is the one I picked out last year. This will work fine.” She will never know about my internal high five for my most recent, very underhanded success.
She will also never know I have just been topping off the body wash, shampoo, and conditioner in her shower from larger bottles stashed in my bathroom because apparently the stress of having to ask ones parents for toiletries is just too much for a teen. It’s the small victories that count. No 8 inch trophy needed here.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.