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Competitive Balancing

I spent my morning reading the book Ten Apples Up On Top to my three-year-old. For those of you not currently engaging a preschooler in your daily lives, let me give you the quick plot summary of Ten Apples Up On Top.

A lion, a dog, and a tiger compete with one another to see who can stack the most apples on his head. They start with the simple act of balancing the apples. But soon the have to resort to doing tricks while balancing the apples - jumping rope, climbing a tree, walking on a tightrope, roller skating, and on and on. By the time they have all reached the ten titular apples, they have started working together, even encouraging one another in their efforts. But then the bear comes along.

For some reason, the bear is not impressed with all this apple balancing. So she starts chasing the three friends with her mop in hand, ready to knock those apples off. She is soon joined by the rest of her bear family as well as by a flock of birds who want those apples in a bad way. A frenzied chase ensues which leads to?.

I'll get to that in a minute.

This morning I was struck by how much this book reminded me of my life. I have been juggling like crazy for the last few months - working insane hours, managing the increasingly packed schedules of my three children, trying to get a new project off the ground, and facilitating two small groups at our church. I feel like I have about 800 apples up on top.

But it wasn't just the apples and the balancing that made me think of my life, it was the competition between these animals, their ridiculous efforts to one-up each other. If you're reading this blog, it's because you are a woman with about 800 of your own apples - work, family, friendship, community, church. And perhaps you've found yourself either overtly or secretly competing with another woman. It might be a co-worker who seems to get more praise than you do. It might be another mother who seems to be eternally calm. It might be that woman at church who manages to do everything with astonishing creativity. Whoever she is, she looms large in your sense of yourself. And no matter how ridiculous it might be, you are willing to add more and more and more apples to your life to prove to?someone?that you can do all of that and more.

So often, we look at other women and instead of seeing a friend or a collaborator, we see someone with better balance, someone with more tricks up her sleeve, someone with more of everything we wish we had. So we take on more than we can - or should - handle in an effort to prove that we, too, can handle everything.

And maybe we can handle it for a while. But then some bear comes along with his broom and tries to knock it all down. We dodge the mop and keep running, trying desperately to keep those apples balanced and looking good. And that's when everything comes crashing down.

In the book, the lion, the dog, and the tiger are about to get away from the bears when they suddenly run smack into a huge cart filled with apples. The collision sends apples and mops and unicycles and wagon wheels flying in every direction. There is complete chaos.

Then the surprise ending arrives. The final page of the book shows all of the characters - from lions and tigers to bears (oh, my!) - sitting on the ground, each with a stack of ten apples up on top.

So here's what I make of that: Competition gets us nowhere. Trying to impress others gets us nowhere. It just leads to a big crash. But sometimes that crash can be the best thing that ever happens to us. It can remind us that we don't have to carry the full load by ourselves, that when we allow others to shine as brightly as we'd like to think we shine, everyone wins.

March14, 2008 at 11:18 AM

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