The field at the back of the school was swarming with students of various ages from multiple schools. Parents huddled under tents by the sides of the running track, each craning to see their children as they ran past. The crack of the starting gun could be heard intermittently, and waves of runners shot past at intervals, arms and legs pumping.
It was a sports day, and I waited impatiently for my first race of the day to be called.
Finally, my race was announced: the 10-year-old-girls’ 100-meter sprint—my favorite. I had won every year previous and was confident that this year would be no different.
I began to walk toward the starting line with a few other girls my age when I heard my mum say, “Make sure you take those shoes off before you go. They don’t have any grip on the bottom, and you could fall.”
I glanced down at my tattered white sneakers. I knew without looking at the bottom of them that Mum was right—they were basically worn smooth. I looked back at my mum, and she motioned for me to take the shoes off and give them to her. From the starting line, my teacher called for me to hurry up and get into place. Other girls were making their way over, and some were already lined up. None of them had taken their shoes off.
“It’ll be fine,” I said as I waved my hand dismissively and headed toward the starting line.
I vaguely heard Mum say something as I jogged away–probably reiterating her suggestion—but I ignored it. I had a race to concentrate on.
I took my place at the starting line and began to warm up with around 10 other girls. We made small talk, but the air was filled with tension. Some of these girls—or, more likely, their parents—were very competitive, and we all eyed each other warily. I wasn’t too worried about the competition; I had beaten them all easily last year.
I knelt to retie my shoelaces and then lifted my foot to study the bottom of my worn shoes. My mum was right: they had almost no grip left. I glanced left and right and saw that all the other girls had expensive, name brand shoes. My $30 shoes seemed very inferior. I shrugged to myself. I didn’t need fancy shoes to win this race.
I snapped out of my musings and stepped up to the line. I rolled my shoulders and stretched my arms above my head. The girl to my left—my only real competition—gave me a sideways glance, and I tried hard not to smile. I knew I would outrun her easily. I positioned my feet to just before the white marked line and waited.
I braced one leg and slid the other one back, my body tense and my arms in locked position, ready to launch myself forward.
I rocketed away from the starting line, arms and legs pumping in sync. Almost immediately, I put distance of a few meters between me and the other girls. I could hear the roar of the crowd, could smell the faint scent of gunpowder from the starting gun, and as I closed in on the finish line, I caught the tiniest glimpse of my mum, standing by the side of the track, cheering me on. I smiled to myself. I felt good. I felt reassured of a win. After all, I had already basically won. A few more meters to go, and I’d earn that blue ribbon.
And then it happened. It was if a rug had literally been pulled out from under my feet. Before I could fully comprehend what had happened, my shoes slipped out from under me. Even now, I still distinctly remember the feeling of that fall. The ground rushed up to meet me, and I slammed down hard onto the grass—my hands, elbows and knees taking the majority of the impact.
In the very next moment, as I lay on the ground, I was overtaken. The other runners passed me. I heard the cheers as the first girl—my only real competition—crossed the line. She looked triumphantly at me as she was handed the blue ribbon.
My face burned with red-hot embarrassment. I was a mere 10 meters from the finish line. I turned to see my mum rush onto the track and scoop me into her arms, and I buried my face in her shoulder as she carried me off to the sidelines.
She never once said, “I told you so.” She knew it didn’t need to be said. She could see in my face that I wished I had listened to her. She didn’t need to point out that I had been wrong. I knew.
My smug self-assurance, swiftly followed by my crushing embarrassment, really taught me a lesson that day about honoring my mother. I didn’t listen to her because I thought I knew better. I took it upon myself to assume that my 10-year-old reasoning was far superior to my mother’s.
That day, I learned that I don’t always know what is best for me, and that my mum always has my best interests at heart.