About a month ago, I entered Simon into a fun little event called the Diaper Derby at the University of Virginia. The derby, as it’s called, takes place during half time at the basketball games. It’s a race from the foul line to half court, with the winner taking home a $529 Virginia 529 college savings plan voucher.
As we made the one hour drive to Charlottesville, I was content to smile to myself. A sort of reposed, cocky grin, because I knew it was in the bag. At 12 months old, Simon was just sliding through the 6-12 month deadline. I’d asked the girl on the phone if this was okay. She said sure, as long as he wasn’t walking. Suckers...I almost felt bad for the other parents. The only thing I was worried about was that Simon would jump up and take his first steps right there on the court, sprinting to the finish line like a track star and voiding his college savings...
So you could say I was confident, perhaps overly confident as we'd spent the previous evening working on his Richard Sherman-like post-race speech. I’m the best crawler in the game!!!! He's getting there.We arrived at will call, picking up our much sought after and yet complimentary tickets. Virginia was playing Virginia Tech and the game was sold out. I held my breath. How would Simon do with the crowd? With over 15,000 in attendance I was scared he'd get out there and start melting down right there in front of---hey, Simon? I turned to find him and Mom chatting up the door guys before we even made it through the turnstile.
Okay, let’s find our seats. But before all that there’s a couple things you should know:
- I've always been terrified of people. Especially if the people were watching me. (Drunken karaoke notwithstanding.) I've gotten better, but still, I'd probably never leave the house but to go to work, play basketball and walk my dogs if it weren't for my wife's dragging...
- My wife and my dad are probably the two most outgoing people I've ever met in my life. They're the kind of people who are comfortable in a TSA checkpoint on Labor Day weekend. More people to meet...
Okay, carrying Simon, we hiked up the bleachers to our seats in the high altitude section and it was quickly evident that he had the Mom and Grandpa gene--not the Daddy freak-out gene. Because he wasted no time pointing and howling and finding friends. We sat down and settled in. Simon took it in and loved it, spinning around and charming the couple behind us. He turned it on and they melted in his hand, which he promptly used to point at them. Daddy smiled nervously.<----Seriously, look at that. I'm holding that kid like he's the last life vest on the Titanic. But Simon was into it, clapping and cheering and I'm pretty sure he even heckled some opposing fans. Then, with six minutes before halftime, we descended the stairs to make our way to the race. Simon left with two fans in section Q tucked firmly in his corner.
Race time. We met the other parents and babies just before halftime. I kept having to tell my wife to stop saying "the completion." But inside I knew, I knew this was a cake walk….crawl….whatever. We got this.The other babies were tiny, Simon looked like he drove there in comparison. Anyway, blah blah blah, we went through the rules. Then we headed down to the tunnel.
As a sports fan, and a longtime UVa fan, heading down to the court was special. As happy I am to have a kid, because of course I love him, I kissed his head for granting me the opportunity to get down to the court.
But I could tell something was off. It was like Secretariat’s first time at the track. The lights, the buzzers, the cheering crowd wasn’t bothering him, it was distracting him. He stared off to the giant scoreboard, attracted to its high definition like a fly zapper. I shot his mother a look of concern. We were in trouble…
A deep breath. I even made a few preemptory jokes to another Dad out of guilt because Simon was so much bigger than the other babies, something about how his girl had the advantage because boys get distracted so easily. Oh what a visionary...
We exited the bowels of the arena like gladiators. Well, parents coddling their spoiled rotten babies, carrying phones and cameras and diaper bags, but still, like gladiators.
Suddenly it was go time. They rolled out the Va. 529 banners. Mom took her place at the finish line—a planned strategy that hurt Dad’s ego but in the end was necessary. Who would he crawl to? Ouch.
A well-manicured lady fired up the crowd, a blur of faces and orange, and then we were off……and then we were off……..and then we were off…..Simon wouldn’t budge, that damned scoreboard had sucked him in and wouldn’t release its grip on his stare. In his defense, it was really, really cool.
“Simon, go to Mommy. Go Simon, go!”
Nothing. I pointed and yelled and coaxed but my son just sat in the starting position like Husain Bolt posing for a marble statue. Meanwhile, the little ankle biter to my right was off, halfway there already, probably because her Dad had left the staring position and walked beside her, baiting her with puffs or some other illegal contraband. But we weren’t cheating. We didn't need to because we're fast.
And then Simon started. For a minute I just knew he'd only given her a head start, you know, to make it fair like we’d discussed. He took a beautiful stride and I thought he was going to give the sold-out crowd a show to remember. But no.
He turned around, plopping down on his rump right there on the hardwood and looked at Daddy, those big blue eyes reflecting the scoreboard above. Yeah son, it's pretty cool isn't it?
Man I love that dude.
We gathered our free swag bag and headed for the stairs. I’d discovered new parenting territory, I didn’t care about winning. I cared that he enjoyed the game, that we'd had a family day. That even though his mother mistakenly wore a maroon jacket, which, combined with my orange UVa shirt perfectly composed the arch rivals’ team colors, it was okay. When we were leaving a lady at the door told me how beautiful my son was. Oh yeah, and Virginia won big, 65-45 in a game that was never close.
What a day...
So what happened when we got home? Well, we greeted the dogs, unloaded the Trader Joe’s groceries and Mom's wine--which as I drink now isn't that bad. Then we set the little dude on the floor and he immediately scorched up the hallway, crawling faster than most Volkswagens can coast before turning around with that lovable gleam in his eyes and giggled that little giggle that makes it all worthwhile.
What a winner.