Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.

My husband is a genius. Please do not, under any circumstance, reveal this information to him. However, I have to tell you that he has invented the single most brilliant behavior modification technique in the history of child-rearing. And it’s actually working!

My seven-year-old son, Eli, is a highly intelligent, creative youngster with an iron will and emotional intensity that’s off the charts. To say he’s been a challenge lately would be like saying Tim Tebow considers himself moderately religious.

In all sincerity, I was ready to throw in the parenting towel and either send him off to boarding school or ship myself out to the coast to some chi-chi wellness center to try and recover a modicum of sanity. But Mark, my husband, cured his behavioral misconduct with one word: FOOTBALL.

Eli is obsessed with football. He lives, breathes and sleeps football. In fact, if I would let him, he would talk incessantly about football, play football in the backyard from dawn to dusk, and literally eat pig skin morning, noon and night if it wasn’t such a dietary no-no in our religion.

Never in a million years would I have thought that football, the bane of my existence, would restore my life to harmony and return my family to a state of peace and well-being. But thanks to Mark, that’s exactly what happened.

You see my husband Mark is a highly intelligent, creative man with an iron will and emotional intensity that’s off the charts. (Funny how that apple analogy keeps coming up.) He’s also the only person on the planet who is more competitive than Eli. So, determined to win the battle of the wills with our son and get his tantrums, hysterics, and irrational behavior under control, Mark invented a fantasy football game that allows Eli to gain yardage for proper behavior, score touchdowns for initiating positive actions and win major rivalry matches for controlling his anger and expressing his feelings appropriately. On the other hand, there are interceptions, fumbles and high scoring opponents whenever behavior takes a turn for the worse.

Their games are intricate and intense, They hold Eli’s attention and stimulate his imagination. And due to his acute competitive edge, he desperately wants to win these games and propel his team (the New York Giants) all the way to the imaginary Super Bowl.

We have seen a 180 degree turn in his behavior since initiating this game. It’s hard to believe. The other day, just as a meltdown was pending over a disastrous Mario Kart Wii showdown with his brother, I broke the news that his rival team of the day, the Denver Broncos, had recovered a fumble at the 50 yard line and were running the ball down the field at an almost unstoppable pace. He took a few deep breaths and regained his composure just in time to tackle Champ Bailey at the Giant’s 30 yard line.

I will admit it’s taken a while for me to figure out the ins and outs of the exercise. Mostly because I abhor football and have never had even the slightest inkling to learn about the game. But besides one embarrassing gaff the other day when I had Eli Manning throw a touch-down pass to Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone, I’ve been pretty much holding my own. I’m even getting into it and enjoying the sport for the first time ever.

Hey, wait a minute. Maybe this whole thing is Mark’s sneaky way of modifying my snarky football attitude. Behavior modification X2. Woah. That’s either brilliant or…downright Machiavellian. Oh heck, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean “tis the season” and all that crap.

Happy Holidays! And may your New Year be filled with endless touchdown passes, countless first downs, and unlimited extra points!

Flash football!

I missed the memo that light-up sneakers were no longer cool.

Racing down the field at dusk, all we could make out was a faint outline of his body, his freshly cut hair bobbing up and down softly, and the bright red and blue police lights of his Skechers illuminating his path.

“How embarrassing!” My husband moaned.

“What do you mean?” I inquired, wondering if I’d missed our youngest son, Eli, fumble a pass or lose one of his football flags to an aggressive opponent.

“His sneakers,” my husband lamented, “They light up.”

“I know,” I smiled. “Aren’t they cute? He thinks they make him go faster.”

“It’s humiliating,” he retorted. “We have got to get him new shoes.”

“But he loves those shoes,” I insisted. “Besides, they’re brand new. We had to search for days to find a pair of these in his size. Plus they were not cheap.”

“Do you know why they were so hard to locate?” he challenged.

“No,” I confessed.

“Because big kids do not wear sneakers that light up like police cars!” he reproached,  “Only babies wear those.”

“Don’t you think you’re being a little over-sensitive?” I asked. Then, surveying the field, I added, “It doesn’t look like anyone else has even noticed.”

“Not yet,” he snipped. “But it’s only a matter of time before he becomes the laughing stock of the team. Then the kids will exclude him from everything. No one will ever pass him the ball. It’s just a disaster waiting to happen.”

“O.K.,” I said, rather astonished by his catastrophic prophecy. “But I think you’re maybe over-reacting. Does this per chance bring up something painful from your own past?”

“Please don’t psychoanalyze me,” he said defensively. “I just know how cruel kids can be.”

Sensing that I’d hit a nerve, I decided to back off and run a different play. I suggested asking our son directly if he felt funny about wearing his light-up sneakers. My husband agreed, albeit reluctantly, and after a Gatorade and some Cheez-Its, we broached the delicate subject. Eli confessed that no one else on his team, or in his grade at school for that matter, sported the light-up sneakers. He even accepted the fact that they might be designed for a younger demographic. He surprised both of us with an easy willingness to switch to another brand.

We both secretly congratulated each other on how mature and rational our youngest child had suddenly become. There were no tears, no theatrics, not even a hint of upset. We were proud. Our baby was becoming a thoughtful young man.

“However,” Eli guilefully insisted, “My new shoes will have to be Geox. Because Jacob has those and he says they have super-hero powers and can make you jump higher than Wolverine and run faster than Flash!”

We both smiled at each other. O.K., so maybe he’s not all that mature just yet. But at least he’ll have a new pair of sneakers. And who knows, maybe they’ll improve his game after all.

Flag football fanatic

Maybe this football thing is getting out of hand

I finally understand how people become psycho sports parents. Because honestly, if my seven-year-old son, Eli’s, football coach doesn’t start playing him more, I’m going to run into the field at the next game, hands poised in throat clenching position, tackle the man, and strangle him within an inch of his life.

Here’s the thing: Eli loves football. He’s not the greatest player. But he’s got talent. And with a little experience and training, he could be really good at this game.

Last season was his first foray into the flag football phenomenon. His team ended the season 0 for 14. But that didn’t discourage him one iota. I hate to admit it, but it bummed me out enormously. I mean this league is totally unfair. Half the kids have been playing football since they were toddling around in diapers, and they’re all grouped together on the winning teams. Then there are the “new” players. These are the kids who’ve already past their primes. They’re six or seven before they pig up a pigskin ellipsoid. At that point, it’s simply too late for them. Throwaway kids we like to call them: like my Eli.

These “new” players get grouped together with the other newbies. They end up on losing teams, with inexperienced coaches who “just want to have fun,” and think that everyone deserves an equal chance to play, regardless of their abilities. That’s a sweet philosophy: until your kid’s the best player on the team and still gets side-lined so that the coach’s ADD daughter can race around the field chasing butterflies when she’s supposed to be snatching opponents’ flags.

Last season was frustrating to be sure. But this season is downright maddening. He’s on another newbie team, with a first time coach and a bunch of players who are seriously lacking in aptitude. Based on the first few practices and games, I’m predicting another perfect streak — of losses that is.

But here’s the issue: This new coach knows half the kids on the team from outside of football and he favors them over the kids he doesn’t know, like Eli. So, not only is Eli on a losing team with a clueless coach, but he’s also not getting a chance to play. (This sounds like an old Henny Youngman routine. “The food was awful, and there wasn’t enough of it.”)

The truth is, I’m upset about this. I want Eli to learn how to play football better. If he sits out half the game, he’s not gonna do that. I mean even if Eli was the worst player on the team, which he certainly is not, when the team is down 42 to nothing, the coach might consider giving Eli a chance to get in there and catch a few passes. Come on, if you’re gonna coach a bad team that’s destined to lose, at least let my kid play for more than a truncated flag football quarter.

I want to complain. I want to speak to the coach on Eli’s behalf. After all, he’s only 7, and he thinks this is fun. This is not fun! Someone needs to advocate for Eli. Just because he’s happy does not mean it’s okay to get benched every other play.

But I don’t want to come off as one of those pushy, competitive parents who thinks the world revolves around their kid. But maybe I am one of those pushy, competitive parents. Well, if I am, then I guess there’s no shame in accepting myself as I am and pushing ahead competitively until my kid gets his fair share of field time.

Hmmm…that wasn’t so hard. Self acceptance is a beautiful thing.