My son loves to race. Granted, he is not the fastest runner by a long shot, but man, this kid loves to race anyone around any area. Race around the kitchen? You bet. Race to the car? Oh, yeah.

Racing anywhere is often times the main way we get him where we want him to go, if I’m being honest. His sisters are always using the “big race” carrot to get him places they need to be on time.

So when a little Fun Run was coming up in our local town, I thought, “What a perfect way for him to get to run a “real” race!” and I signed him up.

When I mentioned it to him, he adamantly said he didn’t want to do it. I knew he was scared, and pushed him into it anyway, which is something I think all parents need to do at times for their kids. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway is crucial to achieving goals in life.

So, the day of the race arrives. He still doesn’t want to go. I think, “he’ll change his mind once we get there.” And, in the car on the way, he starts changing his tune. Now he’s getting pumped up. “I’m gonna run FAST,” he says.

We’re the first ones there, so he has time to get the lay of the land, practice on the track, etc. He’s telling anyone who will listen that he’s “gonna run the fastest.” I’m patting myself on the back for being a great parent. Today is a memory maker moment, I tell myself.

I had no idea how right I would be.

The kids line up. He even gets to stand next to his friend from preschool. What luck! The race begins, and my son is too busy looking around to notice that everyone has started running. So he’s way behind when he finally starts. The other four year olds are almost half way to the finish line and he’s just getting going. He gets a ways down the track, covers his face with his hand, starts crying, and walks off the track.

By the time I get to him, he’s sobbing. Loudly. Other age groups are lining up, running down the track, and I’m holding my son who is so loud, the cheering doesn’t even drown out the cries.

Yes, it was a little embarrassing. But I felt the worst for my son who felt humiliated in that moment, as much as a four year old can feel those feelings. His sisters got him his participation ribbon, which he promptly threw on the ground and said, “I don’t want it.”

We left pretty quickly thereafter. He cried the entire walk to the car, and the whole way home. I kept telling him how proud I was that he tried, that he worked hard, that he got out there and did it. But it was just empty words to him. He knew how he felt.

I’m glad we did it, though. Kids need to try big things. Sometimes the embarrassment builds character, which I hope it does in this instance. If all we do for our kids is put them in situations where it’s an easy win, that does nothing for adulthood’s hardships.

I will say, however, that next summer when this race comes around again, we’ll be sitting this one out.

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