In second grade, I was more competitive than I am now. I didn’t have a favorite team. I didn’t play a lot of organized sports. I didn’t even know who the ‘85 Bears were. I was so competitive that when I was playing video games in the basement with my friends, I refused walk up upstairs to pee because I didn’t want to give up the controller. I just peed in the corner. True story.
Regardless, I was one of the most intensely competitive kids in the world when it came to board games, foot races, and trivial showcases of random talents.
On the first day of second grade, a few fifth graders were in our class to tell us about what to expect through the rest of our school year. It was kind of a “peer advice for elementary school” program. Which, let’s be honest, is probably unnecessary, but they came nonetheless. They gave a big group speech to start it off and then sat down with us in little groups to give us advice on how to succeed in second grade.
Our peer leader, understandably, didn’t take this activity seriously. Rather than discuss the pitfalls of his elementary school journey, he made jokes, talked about video games, and challenged anyone that “had the balls” to a “make your face red” competition.
For those who don’t know, this was a fun, stupid way to prove your commitment to a bit in second grade. You would hold your breath and contort your face until it turned red, purple, blue or any other color of the rainbow. Little did our peer leader know, I was a pro at this game.
While other little groups were talking about the most effective way to sharpen a pencil, we squared off on either side of the table in Ms. McKenzie’s classroom. The two teachers were at the front of the room, assuming every student was getting the most out of this excessively helpful group activity without their supervision.
Someone said go, and the face-reddening commenced.
I had my patented “duck my head into my shoulders like a recoiling turtle as hard as I could while holding my breath” strategy. And, much to the chagrin of my opponent, it was working wonders. As my friends later told me, my face quickly turned the color of a bright red stop-sign and my opponent surrendered without so much as a whimper.
My friends had to tell me when he surrendered because I was so committed that I was closing my eyes. Once I was awarded the match, I opened my eyes, unclenched my head, and took a big breath of air.
Then everything got blurry. I’ve never had to wear glasses, but my vision resembled what I imagine people see without their glasses when they need them. I immediately started losing my balance. I swayed in the middle of the classroom like a skyscraper in a windstorm built to withstand the breeze; but not for long.
I careened down to the bright green carpet. As I slowly lost consciousness, my head bounced off the corner of one of the desks, immediately bringing my 7-year-old-brain back to life.
I popped up with my arms in the air, celebrating my victory as only a competitive second grader can. However, the entire class had gathered, including the other fifth graders and the two teachers. My stomach sank.
They all looked concerned and thought this episode was the result of a serious problem. Had I overheated on the way to school and waited until the most opportune time to succumb to the heat? Was the flu hitting second-graders early this year? Had my excitement over the new year of school gotten the best of me? Obviously, it was none of those, but the truth was far too embarrassing to admit, particularly on the first day of school.
I was coddled and consumed by helping hands and panicked peers, trying to find out what was wrong with me. I wanted to make them feel better, but I also didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t know how to assuage any of their concerns other than by being positive. I said the only thing I could think of on the first day of school in second grade:
“I’m just excited about school!”
The crowd disperse and I was left standing in the middle of my little group, the only five people in the room that knew why I had passed out. Would they judge me for my obvious lie? Would they gawk at my ability to think on my feet with what had to be my first concussion? Would they snitch on me to the teachers and embarrass me in front of two entire classes of peers?
They didn’t do any of that. Instead, I was commended for my trivial showcase of random talents. I was the recipient of pats on the back and high fives. For I had taken down a fifth grader, a giant in the eyes of us second graders, in a battle of lung strength and mental fortitude. I had climbed the mountaintop of elementary school competition and staked my claim with a red face and blurry vision. And for one day, the first day of second grade, I was king of the school.
I’m on the far right of the above picture. It’s from kindergarten, rather than second grade, but you get the idea.