I tell the story often of my glorious defeat. Every year at The San Francisco School since the 1980’s, I’ve hosted the Cookie Jar Championships, complete with cookies and cookie jar and certificate for the winners.
(For those poor folks in the dark, the Cookie Jar is a kid’s game with the following dialogue over a steady pat-clap beat:
- Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar. Number 2 stole the cookies from the cookie jar.
me? 1. Yes, you! 2. Couldn’t be. 1. Then who?
2. Number 3 stole the cookies from the cookier jar.
me? 2. Yes, you. 3. Couldn’t be. 2. Then who?
- Number 4 stole the cookies from the cookie jar.
And so on. If you call the wrong number or forget the dialogue or say it too late, you’re out. For more details, buy my book “Now’s the Time.” Or ask a kid.)
And so, the story of my memorable defeat. Year after year, I crowned the kid Cookie Jar champion and at the end, they played against me. If they won, I took them out for an ice cream sundae— on top of the first prize jar of cookies. And year after year, I remained unvanquished. Until…………
He beat me. Unbelievable, but true. He was in 4th grade. And yet more amazing, he returned to the school today 23 years after his stunning victory. Hadn’t seen him or heard about him in all that time. But in workshop after workshop, I relived that remarkable moment as I told people the story. And always wondered what it meant to him.
A few weeks ago, I found him on Facebook and wrote to make sure it was the right Michael Canaveral by asking, “Are you the one who went to The San Francisco School?” His reply? “I can’t believe you don’t remember the kid who beat you in the Cookie Jar Contest!” Aha. He remembered.
A couple of weeks later, I saw he was coming to San Francisco. And so, of course, I challenged him to a rematch. Today, he came to school and I introduced him to the kids as a school legend. I then interviewed him about what he remembered and was amazed that he told the story much the same way that I did.
Michael: “ So there were the two of us and you made a mistake and there was this dead silence for about 6 seconds, as if no one could believe what just happened. And then a thunderous roar and everyone came rushing toward me.”
Me: “That’s exactly what I remember. Except the thunderous roar always plays in slow motion, like a movie with trumpets playing in exultation in the background. How did the whole thing make you feel?”
Michael: “Well, it was simply unbelievable. You were the Cookie Jar god. Year after year we all watched you defeat all the David’s trying to topple Goliath and no one ever thought it was possible. And then there I was, having done it!”
Michael also remembered that Bobby McFerrin, a school parent at the time, was watching the contest. After Michael won, I invited Bobby to play against him and Michael vanquished him in two rounds. That makes a good part of the story when sharing it with teachers worldwide.
So I played Michael again in front of 100 kids. Guess who they were rooting for? I have to say that he did a great job given his 23-year hiatus. We went for about five minutes straight and truth be told, when he finally broke down, I didn’t feel any glory in it. I worried for a moment it would put a blemish on his beautiful memory, but as I said to the kids, we were now tied (a future rematch scheduled for 2023) and no matter what happened, it didn’t cancel his legendary victory.
So finally to the punch line. I’m tired of the sports heros, valedictorians, bumper stickers proclaiming “My child is an honor student” or the new version “My child can beat up your honor student child.” The Cookie Jar is an intense game of attention, concentration, rhythm and grace under pressure. It is as worthy of celebration as the usual fare and more fun and refreshingly different. So I’m going to get bumper stickers made for this year’s contest: “My child was the 2013 Cookie Jar champion.”
And get a special one made for Michael. “I was the 1990 Cookie Jar Champion— and also beat Doug!!” I hope he proudly displays it on his car.