This essay aired on radio station WVTF.
I’ve never thought I was really competitive. In fact I used to describe myself as pretty laid back. Lately though, I’ve had to reevaluate. My husband bought a Wii. And I ended up in a walking cast.
When he first plugged the system into the TV and began stepping on and off the computerized balance board, my laughter could be heard from Ivy to Charlottesville. He was so earnest following along with his trainer, a scantily-clad anatomically correct animatron. But then his scores flashed on the screen and I had only one thought: I can take him.
So for the past months we have been running, hula-hooping, ski-jumping and doing yoga for the top positions on the score board. It’s been cutthroat. The words good and job are never uttered in the same sentence. Excuses fly for low scores. The dog bumped my legs (mine.) The phone rang (also mine.) I got distracted by the trainer’s… leotard (husband’s.)
When discussing with my children my mid-life conversion to competitiveness they all looked at me in astonishment. Not, as it turns out because of any recent transformation.
And with a shock I realized it was true.
Shamefully, I remembered the time I set up an IQ challenge between my very gifted poodle and my 20 month old nephew. (The dog won.) And the time I mortified myself by:
a. attending a Tupperware party and;
b. winning the grand prize during a game that involved jumping up and yelling ‘Tupperware” at the top of my lungs.
I also remembered my unabashed confusion when I learned that the parents of my daughter’s boyfriend play Scrabble nightly and don’t keep score. My husband and I once played for a car.
I come by the trait naturally. I’m from one of the most competitive families in the country. As kids my brothers converted our living room into a basketball court by permanently bolting a hoop to the wall. Concussions and stitches were not uncommon—and it was a nerf ball. They also constructed a golf course that traversed three floors, went through bedrooms and up flights of stairs. When a window would break they’d keep playing. As adults they have turned Monopoly into a blood sport—and once–during a killer game of capture the flag, the older brother pretended to be hurt in order to trick his daughter into releasing him. She was five.
During the election night party for that brother’s successful race for state senate (he’s a progressive democrat with great politics), my other brother and I stayed glued to the television. We were, of course, interested in the final outcome. But he and I were also studying the returns from the precincts where we’d been dispatched to talk up our sibling. Much like the Wii scoreboard we were able to gauge our powers of persuasion in real time. His assigned precinct got the most votes but mine, thought to be in a no-win neighborhood, won, too.
(Which, obviously, is a lot more impressive.)
Bringing me to my walking cast. When my husband charged ahead in the scores, I redoubled my efforts. And promptly fell backwards off the balance board, getting a bonafide athletic injury. Was it worth it? You do the math.