I enter morning consciousness: I’m the Ping-Pong Champion (PPC). I exit evening consciousness: I’m not the Ping-Pong Champion (NPPC). I wake up a loser, not a winner.

Once upon a time, Gregory Greenleaf took on three Sith simultaneously and enjoyed years-long winning streaks at Ping-Pong.

The pattern sometimes doesn’t change and I lose over and over again. NPC, NPC, NPC, NPC. Then Molly hits a slump and I’m PPC. PPC. PPC. PPC!

We take Ping-Pong games seriously in my house. When I win a match, I cross my arms to form an X and yell “X!” See, I’ve taken on the responsibility of representing Generation X, my generation, against Molly’s Generation Z. She hasn’t quite figured out how to make a Z with just two arms, so when she wins the championship, she calls over her younger sister and, with the added arm, they form a Z and yell “Z!” “Z!” “Z!”

My daughter is 14 and I am 52. There used to be a time when I could crush her at Ping-Pong, like when she was 7. There used to be a time when my winning streaks lasted for years, not just days. I would easily triumph at “Battleship,” basketball, all video games, and how fast I could speed through multiplication facts. Back in the day, I could confidently say to my children “Race you to that tree” and be certain of victory.

I go to bed and I’m NPPC. I had mistakenly played Molly at 9 p.m. At that midnight hour, I’m tired, my reflexes are slow, my brain is mush. She is bubbly, like a bottle of newly opened Champagne. After my shot goes long, Molly grabs a battered lightsaber from the toy chest (back in the day, that was me, taking on three Sith at the same time) and uses the blade as an extra arm so she can form a Z.

She forehands the words “Z!” “Z!” “Z!” contemptuously over the net. The words land right on the line and zip past me.

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I feebly lob back across the table the declaration, “If we had played at 6 a.m., you know I would have won,” before going upstairs to bed. Defeated, I look at myself in the bathroom mirror and scrub my teeth with a worn-out toothbrush. I notice wrinkles around my eyes. She is growing up and I am growing down, I tell the person in the mirror. He stares back at me in disbelief.

A synonym for life could be the word “transition.”

One day Molly can’t hit a ball over the net. Then over a matter of days, her hand-eye coordination matures, her muscles get stronger and her serve becomes unreturnable. As for me, one day I’m the family jock kicking sand into everyone’s faces and then over a matter of days, my reflexes slow, I need glasses to read the words on a cereal box, my mind becomes porridge after 7 p.m., and it’s no longer a guarantee I’ll go to bed PPC anymore.

It makes me want to say a bad word: Youth.

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