No one remembers how the ritual began, really. It was just one of those ideas that little boys come up with out of the blue; full of silliness and a dash of good old-fashioned competition.
One day, my oldest son decided that he and his brothers would have a footrace against the car of our departing guests. On the count of three, the trio took off as the car left the curb and ran their hearts out until they reached the end of our short block. The goal was to reach the stop sign before our visitors did.
I can still see it in my mind today. The boys, shirtless and barefoot racing away from me with their bowl hair cuts bobbing up and down with each step. The littlest, just 5-years old, barely made it to the stop sign before his brothers reversed course and headed back to our gate. For a brief moment, the last was first but within seconds, longer legs overtook him and he resumed his place in the sibling pecking order.
For months, every visitor was the unwitting participant in this contest. Some played along and coasted to the finish, trailing the brothers until they reached the corner. Others took it at face value and beat the kids fair and square.
It didn’t matter how the drivers approached it, the boys always gave it their all. They returned to me each time, breathless and happy. In their minds, they always won.
Because they believed.
A crazy, nonsensical feeling of empowerment propelled them forward time and time again. With the folly of youth, they repeated this ritual without giving thought to defeat. There were no voices in their heads to dissuade them. No naysayers to discourage the idea of entering into a race they had a negligible chance of winning. The nagging self-doubt of the teen years was but a speck on the horizon of their lives.
If only we could bottle that unbridled confidence; to capture the mindset that sees possibility at every turn. We could then sprinkle it around to galvanize our kids like the superhero capes they adored in their younger years. They need that spark of blind optimism to navigate high school, college and beyond.
However, time passed and the boys grew tired of the game. They declared it “stupid” because everyone knows cars are faster than people. Reality crept in and the dream died right there on my sidewalk. It was a sad day for me, but in their minds they saw it as time to move on to more attainable goals.
Every now and again, I see glimpses of those bare-chested boys running with their heads held high. Exhibiting the inner conviction that you can determine your outcome regardless of what the person in the next lane is doing. That blind optimism may no longer be there but they are still racing toward their goals all these years later. Maybe because my nonsensical, crazy belief in them never wavered; even when theirs did.
Maureen Stiles writes at her blog, Magnificence in the Mundane, where she chronicles the beauty within the chaos of raising three boys and a dog with her husband, given that the dog is the only one that really understands her. You can also follow Maureen on Facebook and Twitter.