Sunday, October 30, 2011

History repeats itself, albeit not very accurately

History repeats itself, albeit not very accurately

I hate Virginia. Virginia may be for lovers, but I’m simply not feeling the love. That’s because it took me three guesses to guess the correct capital while my seven-year-old daughter quizzed me over dinner from her “50 State of America” book (which, by the way, has taken the top spot on my “Books I Hate” list).

“What’s the capital of Virginia?” she asked.

“Norfolk?” I guessed.

“No,” she said. “It begins with an ‘R.’”

Well that was sweet of her to toss me a bone, so I thought harder, trying not to waste this act of grace from my kind child.

Suddenly, a light bulb went on in my thick head. “Roanoke!”

She shook her head NO and I think I saw a little smile. She was enjoying watching her trivia-competitive mother squirm like this. Seriously, what was I DOING 25 years ago during my social studies classes?

“Richmond?” I asked more than stated.

“Yes!” yelled Lily overzealously, compensating for the fact that I was close to banging my head repeatedly on the kitchen counter.

She then asked “What is the capital of Canned Turkey?” Turns out she misread “Kentucky.”

She learned this behavior from her father. My husband Craig often passes time on car rides by asking us various trivia questions. One day in particular he asked us to name the presidents of the United States. (Lily made it through three rounds – Bush 1, Bush 2 and Obama - until she incorrectly guessed Martin Luther King Jr.)

Just to show off, Craig started asking additional trivia questions such as “Where was he born?” or “What was his middle name?”

So when it was my turn and I named George Washington he followed up with “Where was he born?”

I immediately answered, “The state of Washington,” but the moment I saw my husband’s face, I quickly backtracked and regretted my answer. His mouth hanging open, he simply whispered, “Please tell me you’re joking.”

Of course I was joking. Kind of. But not really. Okay, I wasn’t joking.

Sure, when I stopped to think it through, I realized that at the time of George Washington’s birth Lewis and Clark hadn’t yet headed west, in their covered wagons along the Mississippi River, on their way to meet Pocahontas. So yeah, I realized the error in my initial answer.

My teenage son started snickering in the back seat, but stopped immediately when I gave him my “mom look.” Yeah, he knows who feeds him.

Instead I attempted to divert everyone’s attention. “Look at the cows,” I tried. “How beautiful is that barn?” I asked. “Look, my arm blew out the window just like my mom always said it would if I stuck it out a fast-moving car.” Nothing.

All the president’s men continued to hold court in our car, much to my chagrin. The children, the same ones I gave birth to after hours of excruciatingly painful labor, egged their dad on to ask more questions, reveling in the fact that their mom doesn’t know everything.

So you can imagine how much I was enjoying the state capital game at dinner that same night.

I realize now that I need a game plan: Next time, I will be the one to name the trivia contest in the first place.

Tonight at dinner, I have a feeling we’ll be playing “In Which Jane Austen Novel Does This Line Appear?” followed up with a rollicking round of “Obscure Grammar Trivia.”

It’s sure to be a blast. Well, at least for one of us.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Good sportsmanship powers the race to bupkis

Have you ever started a day with the best intentions, only to watch those intentions devolve into the reality that is you?

This happened to me a few weekends ago, when I decided to take part in the annual Ramble for Recovery 5K here in Roseburg. This race is held to raise awareness of those individuals in our community who are in recovery, as well as the individuals who work with them throughout that process. Worthy cause, right?

That’s what I thought.

The race was divided into two groups: the 5K walk and the 5K run. The runners went first, and the walkers started five minutes later.

Seeing that my best running occurs when I’m running from the car into the store in the rain, I decided to sign up for the walk.

Now mind you, I’ve done my fair share of races, but I’ve never had any possibility of winning a race … until this one.

I’ve prided myself on not being competitive athletically. (When it comes to board games, card games and intellectual challenges, however, all bets are off. I once drew blood during a rousing hand of Nerts.)

Never too old to surprise even myself, I was taken aback when that same desire to draw blood reared its ugly head at this 5K, directed toward the most unlikely adversary.

Out of the gate, I was in the front, experiencing the heady feeling of actually leading the pack for a change. About a half mile in, I was surprised to see that I was still in the lead. That is, except for one person who was ahead of me. He was a little boy who was walking in front of me and as soon as I got close to passing him he’d start running.

I walked behind him, amused at his gumption and sure he would wear himself out before we hit the duck pond, but when we were passing Fred Meyer he was still running to keep ahead of me.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Eight,” he answered in between gasps for air.

“Oh, I have a nine year old daughter,” I said, trying to connect to him on his level. He didn’t bite. Instead he kept running ahead of me, then walking until I caught up again.

At this point, halfway through the race, I started thinking, “Hey, I could actually win this thing” and that competitive spirit started to rear its ugly head.

“So…” I asked, “Are you signed up for the walk or the run?”

“The walk,” he said matter-of-factly.

“THAT, young man, is not walking,” I said.

Let me point out here I was not proud of myself at this moment.

He smiled sheepishly, stopping to a walk. We walked side by side in silence for a while until he started running again.

“Still not walking” I sang.

“It’s just that I really want to win this race,” he said.

“You and me both,” I said.

Again, not one of my prouder moments.

As we came around the path toward the soccer fields, we continued our competitive dance. Just as I started to pass him he started to run again, looking behind to see how far he could get before walking.

Ah, well, I reasoned, at this point I could do with a second place medal. It was still better than anything I’d ever done before. And it was all for a good cause, right?

Plus imagine the story this kid could tell for the rest of his life … how he beat all the adults at his first 5K. And of course I wouldn’t be around to ruin his story by pointing out that he was cheating, which is a win-win for him.

So I settled in toward the finish line happy with my second-place finish as he ran toward the end. At the very last moment, however, a man came up from behind and passed me. Whodawa? Where did he come from? Did he take a cab to the finish line and jump out a moment ago?

Never mind … tra-la-la … third place medal will have to do, or so I thought.
When all was said and done, I discovered that some woman was WAY ahead of me, so she took the first place medal, the little 8-year-old “walker” took the second-place medal, the cab-riding cheater took third, and I got bupkis.

Thank goodness there wasn’t a Good Sportsmanship Award, or I may have had to wrestle someone to the ground for that one.

Instead I soothed my bruised ego with a banana and a free t-shirt. I’m thinking about using a black Sharpie to write “winner” on the back, but that seems overly competitive, which I am not.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and loses races to eight year olds in Roseburg. She can be reached at or you can follower her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

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