I am a cheater of the worst kind.
I cheated at a children's race to benefit kids with cancer.
I'm sure there is a special place in purgatory reserved for people who do things like this, but at the time, I just did not care.
You see, I was forced into this ethical dilemma by my own children. They begged and pleaded for me to take them to the Autumn Fun Run so they could run in their first race and get a t-shirt and ribbon.
"Mom, I always win...I can totally handle a race."
My kids wanting to exercise? Begging to participate with about one thousand other children in something worthwhile? YES!
I tried to explain to the girls that they would be running a whole mile and that they might get pretty tired. Perhaps they should pace themselves. You know, a little running here, a little walking there, just to make sure they weren't exhausted halfway through the race.
Little girls have this thing against listening to and heeding the advice of their old mama. And apparently I have a thing against listening to my OWN advice because I kept telling myself this was a bad, bad idea for my 3-yr-old, but I did it, anyway.
So here we were, huddled up excitedly at the starting line. The energy in the air was contagious. I looked around at the competitors my girls were up against. Some of them didn't worry me in the least. One kid was much too busy picking weeds to even notice he was in a race...we could take him out easily enough. But then there were others scattered here and there, stretching and sporting wrist bands on their arms and sweat bands around their heads. They were doing lunges and jogging in place, shaking their hands out and breathing deeply, preparing for the challenge ahead.
These were the kids I was worried about.
The kids all mumbled the pledge of allegiance and seemed to be checking out the competition around them. The tension mounted as the whistle blower approached the stage.
"On your mark, get set, GO!"
And they, I mean we, were off. This was the kindergarten/preschool race, so parents were highly encouraged to run with their little darlings. The course was in a huge parking lot with cones that looped us around and around, back and forth in long lines until we'd completed one mile.
My older girls took off like little bullets. They weren't holding back at all, putting out 100% running capacity, which is never a good thing for little legs running a whole mile. Needless to say, they quickly got too far ahead for me to watch them in the crowd and I wished them well.
Now back to me and the 3-yr-old. She, too, took off full throttle when she heard the whistle. I held her hand to keep us together and we happily ambled along thru the field to the rest of the course. Toddlers and preschoolers all around me were laughing and giggling, awkwardly putting one little foot in front of the other as their parents encouraged and took sweet pictures to capture the memories.
That lasted for all of 75 feet or so.
Fast forward to about the 1/2 mile mark. The atmosphere around us had changed from exhilarated to exasperated. Crying and whining and laying down on the ground everywhere we looked. All the big kids had long since left us behind and it was just us parents and very unhappy small children struggling to complete the race. Did they care when we promised them a t-shirt and a ribbon? Heck, no. Did they cooperate when we bribed them with a big ice cream cone if they'd just keep going? No. You know it's bad when sugar doesn't tempt them.
Kids were dropping like flies. It was like someone had put out poison gas and the children just couldn't take it anymore. The wailing, the fussing, the absolute refusal to walk another step was an epidemic.
Whose stupid idea was this, anyway?
After I had carried my 38-lb darling the next quarter of a mile, it suddenly occurred to me that this was self-imposed torture. No one was forcing me to finish this crazy course. In fact, the only rule I even heard was that kids must make it across the finish line on their own two feet.
I considered my options. Arms aching, I gazed out at the long stretch ahead of us where we would turn around and double back to the finish line. It was a LONG way. My child was totally finished, wouldn't even walk at this point.
And so, I sucommed to temptation. I am not proud of my moral failure, but here it is.
I made my way thru the line of cones and brazenly crossed the field to the final stretch of the race. I held my head high and pretended what I was doing was perfectly acceptable as I hoisted the heavy child onto my other hip.
Kids with cancer wouldn't judge us, I thought...they wouldn't care if we cheated just a little, right?
And so, I stepped back over the line of cones and found a spot in the crowd, mere meters from the finish line. People all around us were red-faced with exertion, kids were looking kinda pitiful after running full speed in the afternoon heat. The official time clock was ticking away, announcing to each participant their run time as they crossed the finish line.
I swallowed my guilt and gave my child a final pep talk. She rather reluctantly agreed to walk the last few feet, and then out of nowhere, she displayed a burst of energy I wouldn't have thought possible and sprinted to the beautiful finish line. She was so proud of herself.
I didn't have the heart to tell her that she, just like her shameful mama, was a big, fat cheater.
I could feel the glares of other runners as we collected our t-shirt and ribbon. Hey, it was all for a good cause, right?
Okay, okay, so just don't invite us to your kid's birthday party if you plan to play games or have races.