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Laurie Drake: 'Win, lose or draw' is a winning attitude

My real success in life was that we had raised a loving son.

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Post Bulletin columnist Laurie Drake June 9, 2021. (Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

“Win, lose, or draw, we love you,” my husband told our elder son.

Any mother who has had more than one child realizes that each child has a unique personality. This son seemed to have been born inner-driven. Consequently, he became a high achiever in both academics and sports.

His growth spurt came late, in his late teens and early twenties, and in high school he was still a scrappy, red-haired, wiry, freckle-faced kid. So it wasn’t surprising when the wrestling coach singled him out to become a lightweight wrestler.

He took to wrestling like a duck to water, even making it to the state tournament one year. He watched his weight and trained compulsively. Our daughter still remembers one Thanksgiving when he left the table in tears because he couldn’t eat anything so as to maintain his weight class.

Upon his return from wrestling camp in Iowa one summer, a trip to the orthopedic clinic revealed that he had hairline fractures of each shin, the result of being instructed to run a mile carrying someone of his own weight on his back. However, he seldom voiced any frustration. His philosophy was and still is, “Life is what it is. Just work hard and keep moving forward.”

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My husband and I told him over and over, “Just try to have a little fun. Don’t take things so seriously. Winning isn’t everything.” I was always relieved when wrestling was over for the year.

While our son was in high school, I had returned to college as a non-traditional student, and it was proving to be a very lonely endeavor for me. Trained as a nurse by profession, I had mainly studied science. So, at 42 I found myself longing to study liberal arts.

I had begun to notice major gaps in my education, cultural gaps I did not understand. I wondered, “What was a Turner? What was a Renaissance man? What were the Montaigne essays about in my husband’s den?” A small Christian liberal arts school near my home seemed to fit my return-to-college criteria.

The first class in which I enrolled was art history. Before long I realized I was the only non-traditional student on campus and that many of the students and teachers were already well acquainted, given church and school connections. Although everyone was polite, I felt like a fish out of water.

There was, however, one comfortable experience — the regular art professor was studying in Europe and a young graduate student taught the class. I could feel that he was as uncomfortable as I was, but for different reasons, his being youth and inexperience.

Art history required a great deal of memorization and concentration. As a busy wife and mother of three teenagers, I found that studying from 5 to 7 each morning worked well for me, before the family got up. Now when it came time for my mid-term art history exam -- my first test in 22 years -- I was feeling a loss of confidence, both in my academic ability and in my ability to adjust to this particular environment.

The day of the test finally arrived and our son offered to drive me to school. As I was getting out of the car on campus, I turned to him and said, “I am so scared. What if I fail?” He leaned over, kissed me on the cheek, and said, “It’s okay, Mom. Win, lose, or draw. I love you.”

The next year, three more non-traditional students came on campus and I no longer felt isolated. I made many friends, some of whom remain friends 30 years later. Our son left home for college, wrestled the first semester, and then gave it up to concentrate on academics.

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I always wanted to write this particular essay, because even though it was only a moment in time, it was a life-changing event for me. Our son helped me make a very important perceptual switch, to realize that I could relax about my academic endeavors, as my real success in life was that we had raised a loving son.

Laurie Drake is a grandmother and a recent transplant to Rochester. Send comments on columns to Jeff Pieters, jpieters@postbulletin.com.

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