It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, to top off the frenzy of the school year by joining a swim team, but that’s what the girls did this summer. We all celebrated our first potential sleep-in by waking up a half hour earlier than usual, in order to get to the pool in time for the first morning practice.
Morning has not historically been my most productive time of day. And though I love to swim, I love to swim on my own terms: usually not in chilly water; preferably not with a crowd of people; and always with the option to quit, dry off, and have a margarita.
Not surprisingly, then, I was never a swim-teamer. My best friend was on our club team when we were growing up. We’d both get dropped off at the pool about the same time, but I’d “layout,” marinating in baby oil while perusing school-required summer reading, paying little attention to the ridiculous exercise having its way with my friend and her teammates in the pool beside me. An every-6-months dermatology appointment is the direct result of my time spent poolside, but somehow I did not garner an appreciation for the swim-team culture . . . until now.
Now I am a swim-team believer. The girls’ coaches had me at “Grab your kick-boards!” and the girls, too, immediately bought into this scam of waking early, swimming numerous laps, and spending the good part of five Saturdays on a pool deck.
They’d each been pretty strong swimmers before this summer, but when you haven’t swum in eight months, there’s a natural re-acclimation process. Lexi at the start of the season needed a tutorial on how to breathe during freestyle; and butterfly, to Caroline, was a pretty little thing on our back-porch pansies. I ain’t bragging here (just stating fact) but by the end of the season, my girl Lexi pulled in a Silver Meet 11th-place ribbon in freestyle. Caroline, 8th in butterfly. The two of them were just plain sobbing at the end-of-the-year party—unwilling to let it end.
I’ll miss swim team, too:
The early morning chats with parents while we sat on the bleachers swigging coffee. The solid, real, crazily-supportive coach Allie; the softer-spoken Ellen, funny and kind; and very tall Matt, who’d crouch down to tell goofball jokes to the handful of shivering six-year-olds in the lane in front of him. Lexi didn’t ever seem to get his humor (I loved the one about the two monkeys in a bath)—but she’d look up at him, expressionless, blue eyes attentive behind snug blue goggles, just waiting for his next instruction. She adored him.
The meets were long, yes. But where else do you take a mini-bag of Fritos, pour in some seasoned meat and shredded cheese, call it a taco and eat it at 9:00 in the morning? Where else do parents stand idly by, politely conversing with friends while writing in indelible ink Eat My Bubbles! on their kids’ backs? I’d be slightly sleepy. I’d introduce myself to some of the other team’s parents, be normal and nice, and then when either Lexi or Caroline was lining up in a numbered slot like a race-horse, I’d go check in on her, air-swim the breast-stroke as best as possible, say things like “big-arms” and “two-hand touch,” probably make her a heck of a lot more nervous than she was initially, and by the time I heard “Swimmers take your marks!” I would be wide awake, screaming my bloody head off as if she could hear me. As if my screaming could in every way help her go faster.
But it was okay, because immediately after the heat, I would be normal and nice again, and there would be another parent beside me screaming his bloody head off, or waving her arms like a madwoman, or pacing, or standing quietly chewing off his thumbnail, or wielding a camera like a Sports Illustrated photographer.
And afterwards, we would all go get ice cream.
My husband and I talk about “positive reinforcement,” but not usually as it applies to our children—rather, as it applies to us. If Dave isn’t aware that I’ve done four loads of laundry in a day, I tell him—I like a little recognition. After he cuts the grass and weeds in the front, he’ll comment on and hope that I applaud his work as we’re pulling out of the driveway—he likes a little recognition. Students are not thanking me weekly for my thorough planning and consistent classroom management practices. General contractors are not giving Dave burly bear hugs because of his attention to detail and effective salesmanship. The least we can do is take care of each other at home.
Obviously our children are on the receiving end of a constant barrage of hugging and loving. They are recognized. There is much clatter these days about this generation of hovering parents, excessively “recognizing” their own children, to the point where the kids are not at all recognizable—no one is that perfect. No one has that much potential, deserving of that much praise. I do feel like I have to be careful about what I say to my girls. I want to encourage them, but I don’t want to pump them up too much. I want them to succeed and have fun, but I don’t want them to be colossally let-down when they grow older and the greater world greets them with a smack of reality.
For now, though, when it comes to swim team, I say bring on the recognition. Bring on the “personal bests.” Let the award ceremonies run for days. Let trophies clutter bookcases. Let colorful ribbons celebrating 1st through 12th place hang on bulletin boards throughout the land.
I woke the other morning to find Caroline still asleep, her Rookie of the Year plaque beside her on the pillow, one of its rounded wooden corners poking tenderly into her cheek.
Let’s bring it in for a cheer.