Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

By Marilyn Pellini

As a small child, my daughter was often such a poor sport when it came to playing board games. She would get so frustrated when she wasn’t winning. We often gave her little hints and explained that playing with your parents and older brother was difficult, and that meant that she would usually not be the winner. 

I remember one time when she actually put her little hands under the board and tossed it into the air. Chutes and Ladders pieces went flying everywhere, and she just began to sob. After comforting her and explaining what it meant to be a good sport, she came to realize that what she’d done was not fair to the other players. With time, she developed her own strategies and plans for winning.

When she began high school, she learned that she had many competent classmates  — those who were qualified to be everything from head cheerleader to student council president. A number of parents were very involved with the school, often by volunteering for the PTA, while other kids’ parents had a “hands-off” policy. Obviously, the students who had lots of parental help and backing had a definite advantage. I colored in and lettered many a poster that my daughter used when campaigning for student council president. Passing out sticks of gum with the message “Stick With Lynn” didn’t hurt either (that was completely her idea!). That approach turned out to be the winning combination.

Ingenuity and persistence can definitely help level the field. When I applied for my first teaching job in Providence, RI, I knew my chances were pretty slim, as there was a college in the city that was devoted to producing expert teachers. I, on the other hand, had attended the local state university and didn’t even major in education. The summer after I graduated, I took a course at this famous College of Education, and when I arrived for my first interview I felt I could compete with the best of them. I remember being stunned when I walked into the room where the interview was to take place. All the seats at the huge conference table were entirely filled with members of the Board of Education. It was truly intimidating, but I did my best to express with enthusiasm my love of small children, since I was a applying for a kindergarten position. 

As I was closing the door behind me, I heard one woman say to the person beside her, “She certainly makes a lovely impression.” I had dressed in my finest and most conservative outfit, and definitely looked the part. I just knew I had to raise myself up to be as strong a candidate as those who exclusively majored in education.

We have a fine school system in the area where we’ve now lived for many years. The teachers and guidance counselors are devoted. Students are reminded at the start of their freshman year that the grades they earn from then on will go with them to college. Most everyone seems to buckle down and really apply themselves so they can have their pick of colleges. I was very fortunate that I didn’t have to nudge my children to be joiners, as colleges like to see students filling their time well. 

Some kids like to dabble in many areas and try lots of things, and I’d say my husband and I did encourage that. How does one know if they’ll have a love or aptitude for a particular sport if they’ve never tried it? Here again, the parents who could afford private lessons were able to develop their childrens’ talent, but there were just as many youngsters who were so devoted that they played on the town team, school team, and a travel team, so they too developed true expertise. By receiving instruction from a variety of coaches, they worked hard to perfect their ability, which gave them an edge. 

My daughter was one of those who tried everything, and was surprisingly good at many things. One Christmas, she only asked for a guitar. After her first lesson at age seven, she came out of the studio enthusiastically nodding. When she got into the car, I asked her what she was so positive about, and she firmly stated, “Music is my thing.” I actually laughed, but she was right. She had taken dance lessons and baton lessons, but told me she was very klutzy and did not feel she was on the same level with the other kids. She was correct about her aptitude for music; in college, she became the leader of the women’s acapella singing group.

My son, on the other hand, honed in on scouting and became an Eagle Scout at age 15. His Eagle Project took 400 hours, even though only 100 were required. He applied to some pretty impressive schools, though graduating only in the top 25% of his class made his chances of acceptance less certain. But his devotion to scouting, where he continued to raise in rank even after becoming an Eagle, did open doors for some very high-ranking colleges. After law school, he had a job interview with a gentleman who served in John F. Kennedy’s cabinet. His first comment was, “Oh my! I see you were an Eagle Scout.”

My family as a whole experienced an uneven terrain of a different sort for a while. For my first six years of marriage, we lived in four states. It was the nature of many jobs back then to move from state to state whenever you were promoted. Some wives relished the idea of living in a new part of the country; with a raise in salary for their husbands came a raise in real estate for them. Their houses got bigger and grander with each relocation. 

I, however, found leaving family and friends especially difficult. In my first move away from my home state, I concentrated on being a mother and housewife, and outside of visiting with my immediate neighbors, I was very isolated. That made me feel sad a lot of the time, as I was gregarious by nature.

So with the next move, I immediately got involved in my new community. I moved into my first house on a Friday, and on Monday I was at church choir practice. In this new town, my oldest child would be attending school for the first time. Being a teacher myself, I was so impressed with the staff, his classmates, and the school system in general. When it came time to move again, I balked. I begged my husband to stay in our small town, even though I knew it might be a stumbling block in his career. 

After much discussion we stayed, and it turned out to be literally the best move we ever made. We were still three hours away from family and old friends, but it was a doable car trip, and we saw much of Grammie and Grampie. I was so happy in this home that I became a devoted community volunteer; I felt that the Hand of God had sent us here, and I needed to pay back, big time, for His help.

My husband saw the consequences that plagued the children of his colleagues who continued to move time and time again. These kids had no permanence in their lives and often retreated from life, or got involved in questionable activities. Al, my husband, was such a hard worker that eventually he got the same promotions as the other salesmen, even though it took a little longer. Thus, we as a family were able to compete in all of life’s challenges and glories on the same playing field as our friends and peers.

Through all of the successes and losses that life has thrown at us, we’ve remained a happy little clan to this day.

BIO: 

Marilyn Pellini has recently published a grief book entitled Dear Al, A Widow’s Struggles and Remembrances. It has been selling quite well. Her other credits as a writer include a recent article in Brick Magazine entitled “Memories in My Button Jar,” pieces in Westchester Parent Magazine, Bay State Parent Magazine, On The Water, Balanced Rock, and others which she would be happy to provide copies of upon request. In May of 2018, she took the first place prize in the N.Y. State Federation of Women’s Clubs writing contest.