Top Dog

“Let’s play wrestle!” he yells, his tiny body assuming an aggressive stance.

“Let me take my coat off first so that..” before I can finish my sentence, my youngest son has wrapped all four of his appendages around my leg. He holds on with a vise-like grip.

“AHA! I’m Iron Man, and I’ve got you now! You’ll never escape me!”

I walk to the closet, dragging my right leg…said 4 year old child attached to it…behind me as I hang up my coat.


“That’s it. I’m done,” he announces as he tosses his sneakers one at a time into the laundry room. He’s just returned home from playing basketball. His face is a mask of anger.

“Uh oh. What happened?” I ask my husband.

“I’m done. I’m so frustrated playing with these guys. Nobody takes the game to the level I need to play at in order to enjoy it. It’s a total waste of time for me.”

“Why is that?”

“Who knows? They play like a bunch of old men! Maybe they’re afraid to get hurt or something. I’d rather never step foot on the court again than compromise the way I play.”


“Want to play Scrabble?” my husband asks.

I answer quickly, “With you? No.”

“How about Boggle?” he suggests.

“You against me?” I shake my head,  “Nope.”

He’s annoyed. “Come on. Why not?”

“Because I hate to lose. And you always beat me. At Scrabble. And Boggle. That’s why not.”


“This is ridiculous,” he scoffs.

“Stop talking. I’m trying to watch Survivor. Save it for the commercials,” I chide my spouse.

“I wouldn’t be talking if this competition weren’t so absurd.”

I sigh and pause the TV. Thank God for DVR. “Why do you say that?”

He gesticulates wildly towards the TV, “It’s ridiculous that they can’t swallow a grasshopper faster than that! It’s a grasshopper! Just shove it in your mouth and swallow it down! What’s the big deal?”

Calmly, I reply, “I wouldn’t eat the grasshopper. Even if it meant I’d win the reward. And the reward is chocolate. And I love chocolate. I still wouldn’t eat the grasshopper.”

His chest inflates, “I guarantee I would eat that grasshopper. Not only that, I’d eat it faster than anybody on the show could eat it.”

Oh, here we go. “Would you eat it faster than any contestant on any reality show ever consumed any grasshopper?”

He nods assuredly. “It’s true. You know it’s true.”


“Nice race,” he heaves, catching his breath.

“You too,” I reply, matching my husband’s effort to steady my ragged breathing.

He nods behind him, “I took a wrong turn and ran farther than I should have.”

“I was wondering why I crossed the finish line before you did.”

Because that never happens. Even when he’s pushing 100 lbs of combined weight belonging to our youngest two kids, whom he pushed the entire race in the double jogging stroller.

He offers his hand, “Come on, let’s go over and see how everyone else did.”

I wave him off, “I think I’m going to stay here, thanks.”


“Because I can’t walk.”

“Are your legs beat?” he asks.

“I hurt my foot,” I point to the underside of my right foot, searching for the invisible knife  responsible for the searing pain.

“What happened?”

I shake my head, “I wore my racing flats. No arch support. I should have eased my way into them. Never should have raced in them today.”

He winces, “Did you first feel it when you crossed the finish line?”

I smile. “Nope. I felt it a mile in.”

“Why did you keep on running? You should have dropped out!”

I shrug. “Quitting was not an option. After all, I had all of these strangers to impress.”

He nods, “All of these people you’ll never see again for the rest of your life?”

Perfectly serious, I answer, “Exactly. I didn’t want them to think I’m a quitter. Because I’m not.”

He places his hands on his hips and smiles down at me, “Well, I’m sure they’re all very impressed by your effort. I know I am. Now let’s get you a pair of crutches. Non-quitter.”


“I’ll take pop culture for 600, Alex.”

Alex Trebek announces, “Alright, you’ve chosen the Daily Double!”

B&B yells at the Jeopardy contestant on TV, “Make it a true Daily Double! Bet it all!”

I holler at the same TV contestant , “Don’t listen to him! Bet ½! Maybe less than ½!”

He turns to me, incredulous, “What?! She should bet it all!”

I frown, “If she bets it all and gets the question wrong, she’ll have nothing. If she plays it safe, she’s still in the game.”

He raises his eyebrows, “If she bets it all and gets the question right, she takes the lead. Better to bet it all and take the lead.”

“Nope. Better to play it safe and stay in the game.”


“We need to discuss this,” he balances the kids’ dirty plates on his forearms and follows me to the sink.

“Now?” I ask.

“Yes, now!” My husband is nothing if not persistent.

I sigh, placing my hands on the counter. “OK, what do you want to know?”

“What do you want done with your body when you die?”

The Interrogator gasps audibly, “Mom, you’re gonna die?”

I place my arm around his bony shoulders, “No, honey, I’m not gonna die. Not today.”

B&B turns to our 6 year old son, “We’re all going to die. Probably not tonight. Don’t worry about this, buddy, Mommy and Daddy are just talking.”

I whisper to my husband, “Can we talk about it after he goes to bed?”

He shakes his head, “Now.” Persistent.

“I want to be cremated,” I reply.

He nods. “Well, you better tell your family that.”

“OK, I will.”

“Now,” he adds.

“Why now?”

“Because what if you die tomorrow? If I tell them you want to be cremated they may not believe me. They’ll know it’s true if you tell them yourself.”

I nod, “OK.”

He nods, “OK. So tell them.”

“I will.”


Jesus Christmas.

“Alright. Calm down. I’ll tell them.”

Now I’ve gone and poked the bear…

“Don’t tell me to calm down! You know I hate when people tell me to calm down!”


“Hey, Mom, you have to come over here and play this game with us!”

I walk over to stand next to my oldest son, who is almost shoulder to shoulder with me. He is watching his father play a game on the iPad.

I peek over Waldorf’s shoulder. B&B is tapping out a pattern on the game’s 4 different pie-shaped colors…blue, red, yellow, green.  Recognition sets in, and I laugh immediately. “Is that Simon? The memory game?”

B&B looks up to meet my eye. His laughter echoes mine. “Yes! Do you remember this?”

I nod, “I loved that game when I was young! Can I have a turn?”

Waldorf nods, “Sure! It’s Dad’s turn now. Then my turn. Then yours.”

We watch B&B race to match Simon’s pattern.

“Slow down, dude. Just get the pattern right,” I say.

Waldorf shakes his head, “No, he’s right to go fast. You get more points for speed.”

Now B&B looks at Waldorf. Two sets of eyes alight with the excitement of this additional pressure.  Deflated, I watch their delight.

“I’m out,” I announce. And I retreat back into the kitchen, where the dirty dishes await.


Are you confused yet?

I’ve just finished reading a galley of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, written by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  And I found it fascinating.


I began this book with a slight sense of dread.  Last year, I read Bronson’s and Merryman’s Nurture Shock, which resulted in a near nervous breakdown after realizing B&B and I needed a complete parenting style overhaul. Waldorf and the Kenyan will likely need extensive therapy as a result of our abrupt shift. The Interrogator and the Verb stand a fighting chance of turning out half decent. (Want to know if your parenting style needs revamping? Read this excerpt from Nurture Shock, which appeared in NY Magazine.)

As I read Top Dog, each of the above scenarios popped into my head in reference to different points made in the book. The research the authors compiled helped me understand the reasons why my husband, sons, and I behaved the way we did in each of these examples.

  • The youngest child often has the most fight in him. “Let’s play wrestle” is my youngest son’s most often used expression.
  • When competing, men often focus on what they will win. This often leads to overconfidence. May I present…my husband.
  • Women refuse to waste time with losing. Which is why I no longer play Scrabble and Boggle with my husband, who wipes the floor with my rear end in both games. Even though I’m the alleged wordsmith in the marriage. Self-proclaimed wordsmith.
  • I pushed through a race (like a fool), running the risk of further injury, because there were spectators watching. I was running, which is something I train for, enjoy, and typically do well. Had I been trying something new, like tennis, their presence would have increased my stress level enough for me to quit.
Hey, what's this? Look who took 1st place in her age group at that race!

Hey, what’s this? Look who took 1st place in her age group at that race!

  • B&B fits the book’s classification of a warrior, which means he needs stress to perform his best. One of the worst things I can encourage him to do is to “calm down”. That’s going to take some work on my part. Dammit.
  • Men risk a greater percentage of their money when answering a Daily Double in Jeopardy than women do. *Side note, B&B always yells “Make it a true Daily Double!”
  • Additional stress within a competition makes men less emotional and more calculated. While it can create too much stress for women. This explains why B&B and Waldorf rose to the occasion to compete in a timed game of Simon, and I willingly chose to wash dishes.

In every chapter of Top Dog, I was able to identify instances in my everyday life to which the psychology behind winning and losing applies.

And don’t think I didn’t bust out a ruler to measure the lengths of each of our index fingers and compare them to the lengths of each of our ring fingers. But you’ll have to read the book to understand why…

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing is available on February 19th. Po Bronson will be speaking at SCH Academy in Chestnut Hill, PA, at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, February 20th. The event is free and open to the public.

I look forward to meeting him. I’ve almost forgiven him for my near nervous breakdown after reading his last book.



Our This Is Childhood series continues today with the fabulous Allison Tate’s take on Age Five. Allison is the rock star responsible for writing The Mom Stays in the Picture. Her writing elicits such emotion in me. And the pictures that accompany This is Five are priceless.

Next week, I’m tackling Age Six.


10 thoughts on “Top Dog

  1. I love this. As always I had to smile when I could relate to people/times in my own life. I was like that with running also. The first time I ran with my running group I was so worried about how fast the other women would be going, if I could keep up and if I’d be able to go as far…would I have to stop and walk??? What would they think?
    Through this journey I have learned I am competitive with myself and rarely with others. I will walk away when I know someone is trying to be “better” than me. But I love setting a goal for myself and seeing it through. I love to challenge myself and proving that I am stronger or faster than I thought I was!
    Thanks for a great read and I will check that book out.

    P.S. I loved one of your last entries as well and have continued to think of it. I sing “you are my sunshine” to my son. He is 7 and still asks for it thank goodness! It reminds me of the calming way my mother sang it to me. But also it reminds me of my birth mother who I found at age 19. She and I met in person when I was 20 and she had just had her 3rd child. As we sat talking and she rocked her baby in the afternoon sunshine she started singing and sang the 2nd verse which I had never heard before. Funny when like comes full circle in that way…

    • Jen, I cried when I read your P.S.!! I hadn’t heard the second verse until after I had my first two boys. We were visiting my parents in FL, and they came in to serenade the boys before bed. They harmonized the 2nd verse (my Mom has a gorgeous singing voice), and the kids have demanded it ever since.

      I’m with you on the competitive piece. If I feel like I’m challenging myself, I’m in. If I feel like someone is dragging me into a challenge under protest, I’m out.

      Although, I’m signed up for Frostbite Five Miler on Saturday. And the last time I ran it, I killed it (for me). I won’t be able to touch that time on Saturday. It almost kept me from signing up for the race. Ridiculous, I know.

      Thanks for reading!!!

  2. What an interesting book, now I’m dying to know why you are comparing finger measurements. Tell me, and I’ll tell you why you can suddenly grip an out-of-reach glass on the really high shelf after a third attempt.

    Your snapshots were heart-warming and funny and oh, I hate competition–I literally can’t win! I feel sorry/badly for the others if I excel, or bored/miserable when the shoe is on the other foot and there’s no happy in the race. (Monopoly, anyone? Winning: Yay! but no one else is having fun, so not really fun at all. Losing: ugh. Excruciatingly painful. Can we quit yet?)

    As far as Nuture Shock–I guess I did it all wrong. (You is kind. You is smart. You is important.) But then again, one daughter is taking the Bar this month, and the other is in her first year of med school. They’re happy and far better peeps than I was at their age. The bottom line is do you parent with your heart? You do, (and it’s a beautiful one.) No worries.

    • Dee, you did it all right! I wouldn’t be surprised to learn my boys aren’t listening anyway;-)

      I’m 5’5″. The tallest female in mg nuclear family, but vertically challenged in every other arena. Please dish about the secret behind the 3rd attempt to reach something off a high shelf…

      • Discovering your ability “grow” your fingers is one of the awesome things a parent learns from their children via school science teachers. It’s the reason why an item out of reach suddenly is “grabbable” (ok, made that word up–but you get it). Your brain tells your fingers they must “grow” and somehow, I don’t know why, they extend a few millimeters and make a difference.

        Try this: line your hands up, praying style, and make sure they are even-steven. Then concentrate on a finger on your right hand (or left, but just one side) and “tell” it to grow or reach longer than the others. If you concentrate, it does it.

        Just in case you think I’ve lost my marbles–I googled this video: (Disclaimer: idk anything about the guy in it, and I’m not advocating anything he says–except that your can tell your brain to tell your fingers to grow.) 😀 And while I was hunting for the video–I discovered why you were measuring finger lengths. 😛

  3. Loved your vivid examples and this book (both books!) sound fascinating. Must check it out. (When I watch my husband do anything with his brother and father, it’s like a watching a mini social experiment on the competitive nature of men. Wowza.)

    • Denise, I get a kick out of my husband. My 14 year old nephew just won the championship match in his weight class for wrestling. Naturally, my husband challenges him to a wrestling match on my living room floor. Just your typical Tuesday night in my house.

      Thanks for reading!!

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