Put on Your Big Kid Pants

When I was about ten years old, I participated in a music competition.

Wait, let me back this up a bit. My parents left one night to buy a piano; I was overjoyed.

They returned with an electric organ. I was mortified.

Still, my sister and I obediently took lessons. I practiced daily, because I was the first-born rule follower. My sister, disliking it as much as I did but not needing to do the die-hard rule following thing because she had ME, instead put on her headphones, kicked up the rhythms and pounded away at the keys for her practice time, until the day music teacher gently suggested to my parents that she probably shouldn’t continue if she really wasn’t interested.

I stayed on, practiced, and that brought us back to where I was starting this story. So.

Organ 001

Me, at the height of coolness. With permed hair. At age 10.

When I was ten years old, I took part in a music competition. I had practiced the piece “The Tinker Polka” (how cool was I) ad nauseum on the organ (thanks again, Mom), and I won first place. I was even awarded a trophy. Which was cool, in a way, like winning the dork olympics, but it did was proof that hard work pays off.

Trophy 001

Not long after, a distant cousin was getting married and asked my younger sister to be the flower girl. I was a little disappointed…which soon turned to stupefied and angered, when someone explained to me that she was chosen “because you got to compete in the music competition” and so “this could be HER special thing”.   sound of screeching brakes

What? WHAT? She could have participated, too, but she quit. I practiced my polka playing fingers off to participate. In the eyes of this little rule-following people-pleaser, she was rewarded for NOT finishing. Oh, don’t get me wrong – that wasn’t the intent of the decision at all, but honestly, I think my overachiever self would have more readily accepted “oh, we chose her because she is younger, and flower girls should be little, and cute.”

Jill 001

(Oh, and for the record? I’m over it. Even though she did have a pretty parasol that MATCHED HER DRESS. To be clear, she was not the one at fault and I was never upset with her. My discontent lay fully with the grown ups who made this “fair” justification.)

But it did leave a distaste in my mouth for rewarding mediocrity, something that we do far too often in today, particularly in youth sports. Play in a tournament? Woo hoo! Everyone gets a trophy! Run in a race! Good job. Everyone gets a medal. See, in our politically correct society, we don’t want anyone to feel left out or have their feelings hurt by losing or failing. And while it may seem kind, how does that  mentality help that child out when they encounter  that tough teacher who isn’t going to sugarcoat things or spoon feed, or when that now adult gets their first bad review from a boss?

Learning to lose gracefully, to get up after defeat…or to just take the truth head-on? And that – honestly – not all is fair in life? Those are the real gifts we can give a child.

I’m not a fan of over-rewarding. Kids need to learn that you can’t win every game, or every battle, or every competition. Some days you will come out on top – but other days, there will be kids who do better than you. And that’s ok – hopefully it will make you want to step up your game, and work just a little bit harder.

Oh, and that flower girl dress my little sister wore while I cried? (I was an over-sensitive people-pleasing perfectionist.) It taught me another good lesson – life isn’t always fair. And when it isn’t, you’ve got to put on your big kid pants and get on with it.

Even if they are high-waisted and acid-washed, paired with a striped blouse over a red turtleneck.



This post was inspired by The Matheny Manifesto by Mike Matheny. St. Louis Cardinals manager Matheny shares his tough-love philosophy for children’s team sports that translate to everyday life.

Join From Left to Write on February 12th as we discuss The Matheny Manifesto. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes, but all opinions are my own.

This book has honestly impacted how I respond as a parent on the soccer field every weekend. No matter what sport your child plays, or whether s/he is an athlete or a “mathlete”, the lessons and ideology in this book are universal.



  1. I love it!! And I didn’t know you played keyboard!

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