The Optimism Rollercoaster on Competition Day

When we make State,” my son said to the Drowning Robots early on competition day, “we’re going to make a prototype.”

“Yeah!” they agreed. “When we make State!”

They are a middle school robotics team. The competition combines an environmental sustainability project with challenging robotic missions. Three presentations. Three programming sessions. Only six would qualify for State.

“And when we have a prototype, we’ll make Nationals!”

“Yeah!”

Remember, this was early.

“Where do we go if we win Nationals?”

“Disney?”

“Oh, then we’re going to World!”

The presentation of their water evaporation tower project – adapted from a strange looking orange contraption piloted in Ethiopia – to water lawns, golf courses, and recreation fields went beautifully. Their Core Values presentation went swimmingly. Their ability to discuss how they went about building their robot and designing programs impressed the judges.

These kids can talk.

And it was still early. “Nationals are in Houston or Detroit. Which one should we go to?”

But then came the robotics. Tension rising with each round. Round One had them in 22nd. Everything that had worked for weeks in practice failed them. The team buckled down. While other teams threw plastic bottles of water at each other, this team worked on their programming. “We can do this!”

But in Round Two, they dropped to 24th. After the final round, revising programs on the fly, they remained near the bottom of the pack.

One of the Dads gave a beautiful pep talk to unhearing, sad faces about their work ethic, team spirit and grit.

They begged to leave before the award ceremony. “We’re just making excuses,” my son whispered to me.

“Even those toddlers throwing water at each other can program better than us,” moaned one of the girls.

But more than an hour later, they heard, “The Core Values Award goes to the Drowning Robots!”

And… they are going to State. Their presentations were so good that talking catapulted them over 16 teams who beat them at robotics.

And the very first thing my son said?

“We’re building a prototype, and we’re winning the Project at State.”

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Biceps and Basketball

“What are those things that she has on her arms?” my five year old asked, pointing to his five year old, girl cousin.

I eventually got to “biceps?”

“Yep. Well, even though she has those and she is stronger than me…do you know our hoop outside?” Pause for dramatic effect and general know-it-all-ness. “Well, she can’t even make a basket, and I can.”

Always competing at my house, even with those who don’t know they are in the competition.

“Why do you think that is?” I asked, going for the word “practice.”

“She shoots grandma style.”

Their First Golf Tournament

My boys’ golf teacher suggested that they were ready for the club’s junior tournament, and since they seemed excited to play, I signed them up.

I did not sleep the night before. I worried that my nine year old would get frustrated playing six holes (which he has never done). I worried that his shyness would make him miserable playing with kids he does not know. I worried that my eight year old would keep hitting to his right. I worried they would get too hot and cranky. I worried that they would not be as good as the other kids. I worried that it would make them hate golf.

So I was surprised and proud when we got out of the car the morning of the tournament, and the nine year old said, “I am feeling confident.” The eight year old said, “I want to win.” They had slept soundly.

They were playing in different age groups, but at the same time. My four year old was alone in the game room. So I raced in my flip-flops and 90-degree midday sun between their games and the game room. I have had more water today than in the last two weeks altogether.

The nine year old practically strutted as he played, chatting with one of the boys, acting like he belonged on the golf course. The eight year old smiled a lot.

The nine year old got third out of four, but he feels like he crushed it. The eight year old got sixth out of eleven. Both with respectable scores.

They hit it straight all day.

Next year, they will be in the same age group. So when they saw the beautiful trophies the first and second place winners received this year, the nine year old said, “I’m gonna win next year.” The eight year old said, “But I’m gonna beat you.”

Guess I’ll be losing sleep the night before the tournament again then.