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The First Millennial Trophy

Mark’s soccer medal, Ottawa, June 2018

“Mommy! Look what I’ve got! METAL!”

“Metal?”

“No, medal!” Mark shouts, barging in to my room. “Everybody got one. I won a medal! Did I do well?” he asks eagerly.

I’m stumped.

Oh, fuck me. It’s almost 8 p.m., I have a deadline to meet and now I have to take a multiple-choice question parenting test.

Question: Your 5.5-year-old son gets his first soccer participation trophy. As a mother:

  • you shout “AWE-SOME! I’m so proud of you! You’re the BEST!” and go bake a gluten-free, nut-free, sugar-free, cruelty-free cake to celebrate.
  • you take a closer look at the medal and wonder if it’s worth the registration fees.
  • you call the FIFA because clearly, a soccer legend is born.

I’m torn between what I should say and what I want to say.

Mark didn’t win anything, he just showed up at soccer practice for six weeks. And I’m fairly confident none of the kids “won” anything. I mean, have you ever seen five- and six-year-old Canadian kids playing soccer?

I have. On week 2, Feng—who signed up Mark and thus, was the designated responsible adult—had to work, so I took Mark to the park across the street. This is where he crawled in the grass, mastered the slide and ate an entire sandbox between 6 months and 2 years old.

I wasn’t exactly happy to go to practice. It was raining, the field was muddy and also, I hate soccer. “Oh well, at least I’ll get to socialize with other parents,” I sighed.

The one-hour practice was at the neighbourhood park and since all residential neighbourhoods have a park—Canada has plenty of land—I had assumed soccer was an informal neighbourly recreational affair. Little did I know that apparently, “our” park is “the” place for soccer practice and that parents were coming from all over Ottawa.

It didn’t take me long to see that the game wasn’t intense but the parents were.

Holy shit, the parents.

Well, let me just tell you that parents who bring lawn chairs and a cooler full of snacks for a one-hour practice are not into small talk. Every five minutes, the mother beside me was calling her son for a “hydration break,” handing him a bottle as if the poor kid was hiking through the desert. Another one was cheering non-stop but I wasn’t sure what she was cheering for because the kid I identified as her son was mostly scratching his butt—I think she just liked to cheer since she also praised her baby for a loud burp.

Meanwhile, on the field, none of the kids seemed to have la mano de Dios, although a few were good at faking injuries. The two teams ran around for an hour, periodically shaking hands for no reason—the polite Canadian touch to soccer? I’m pretty sure the only time the kids got the ball is when they were holding their own ball.

If anyone should get a medal, it’s the parents. Seriously, it’s boring to stand around a soccer field—I vowed that evening I will never be a soccer mom.

“Okay, hang the medal and go take a bath, you’re dirty!” I end up saying because really, how do you acknowledge a participation trophy?

Poor Mark. Chinese parents criticize much more than they praise and French parents tend to believe in tangible results—good grades, an achievement, a milestone reached.

I take another look at the medal while Mark is in the bathroom. It’s gotta be the most Canadian thing I’ve seen since the kids playing hockey in the middle of an ice storm a few weeks ago. Why on earth is the local soccer league sponsored by Tim Hortons? And come to think of it, what Canadian event or activity is NOT sponsored by Tim Hortons?

I put the medal back.

Except for props during the London Olympics (if I look weird, it’s because I was seven-month pregnant…) it’s the first trophy I’ve ever held.

I’ve never won anything my entire life. Some people are competitive by nature—Feng is, and so is Mark apparently—but I’m the opposite of that. I go out of my way not to compete with other people because I’m convinced I can’t win.

But maybe developing some competitive spirit is a good thing after. Instead of competing against others, I compete against myself and trust me, it’s not great for mental health. I’m the one setting goals, measuring progress and defining success. No matter what I do, it’s never good enough. I’m never satisfied and occasionally, I find myself craving praise—which I will immediately dismiss, of course, remember, I’m not good enough.

Maybe those participation trophies are a good way to build confidence and self-esteem. Maybe Mark will turn out to be a decent soccer player, maybe not—but either way, the session ended on a positive note for him.

And maybe a healthy dose of praise of the key to this baffling confidence and can-do attitude so many North American display.

I’m just too European to understand this concept.

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