My 9-year-old daughter, Sophie, took the loss hard. The unexpected defeat was difficult to process. She was angry, embarrassed, bewildered and grief-stricken. There were tears. Lots and lots of tears.
Yes, losing your very first tennis match can be traumatic.
Afterward, she couldn’t even look her young opponent in the eye as they shook hands. She dashed off the court, locked herself in a restroom stall and sobbed.
Granted, at her level of tennis, a serve that lands in-bounds is an achievement, and a rally that extends beyond the initial return is a minor miracle. The stakes are not high.
But this was her first official match, the first time she was pitted against an opponent, one-on-one, with a score and spectators. She lost, and didn’t much like the feeling.
Welcome to reality, honey. You’re not always gonna win.
It’s a hard, but necessary, lesson to learn. In the process, a river of tears will eventually flow.
As it stands, tears are not uncommon in our household, populated as it is by two young girls and a 6-year-old boy with his own finely honed dramatic streak.
I was recently empowered to make the selection for Family Movie Night. Drunk with power, I broke with tradition to choose a movie that was not animated: “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.”
The 1993 live-action "comedy adventure" follows a wise golden retriever named Shadow, a rambunctious young American bulldog named Chance, and a haughty female cat, Sassy, as they brave the wilderness of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, trying to get home to their human family.
“Homeward Bound” turned out to be more intense than I anticipated, especially for the more sensitive members of our family. They hadn’t previously considered the possibility of pets being stalked by a mountain lion.
When Shadow tumbles into a muddy pit late in the film, viewers are left to wonder if he survives. This was more than Sophie and her 4-year-old sister, Celia, could handle. They started crying hysterically, as brother Sam covered his ears.
They were inconsolable, far more upset about this dog’s fictional fate than they were when our real dog was put to sleep two summers ago.
So what did you think of the movie, Sophie?
“Does it look like I’m in any shape to TALK?!??” she sputtered in response.
After she and Celia finally settled down, we asked Sam about his favorite part. Without missing a beat, he replied, “Shadow died.”
Shadow did not, in fact, die. But the mere suggestion was enough to set the girls off again. They collapsed against their mother on the sofa, bawling.
“What was this movie RATED?!!?” Sophie wailed.
It’s rated G. It’s from Disney. Suffice to say, we won’t be watching “Old Yeller” any time soon.
At this point, my wife noted that the emotional swings of little girls are nothing compared with what comes later, at puberty.
Sophie was far more emotionally invested in "Homeward Bound" and her tennis match than she was the 2016 presidential race.
As my parents did for me, I brought her into the voting booth on Election Day and let her enter my selections. The next morning, she responded to the results with a shrug. Her school basketball team’s first practice, and the upcoming birthday sleepover at her buddy Ella’s, were the relevant matters in her universe at the moment.
Sam was blissfully unaware of the whole thing. But perhaps he noticed the difference in his elementary school’s morning meeting the day after the election.
The principal addressed students, parents and teachers assembled in the gym gently, calmly, as children's television legend Mr. Rogers might have. She explained that while some people might be upset by the election results, this is how the system works.
The school, she assured everyone, is still very much a diverse community working together — and that wouldn't change.
A female teacher sang a hushed, lovely version of "What a Wonderful World," accompanied by a male teacher on acoustic guitar. Then we all stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, as the kids do every morning.
But on this morning, some grown-ups wiped away tears. As Sophie knows all too well, it’s never easy to lose.