Swim-Team Believer



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.



I Hear You, Ward Cleaver!


The Lenehans caught the tail-end of a Leave it to Beaver episode this past Sunday.

There I said it.

Poor Ward Cleaver was trying to take his family on an outdoor vacation, but he was complaining about Wally and Beav’s preoccupation with comic books and drive-in movies. “Their days are organized for them,” he said to June.  “They don’t know what to do with their free time.”

Dave and I chuckled from our respective Archie Bunker armchairs, the surrounding walls covered in flowered wallpaper. We stared at the black and white set, while our kids played jacks on the front porch, sipping rootbeer floats and eating tuna noodle casserole….


60+ years later and not all that much has changed. Same big-picture issues, just the details are different.

Ward–I hear you all the way from the 21st century. I speak your language when I say, golly and gee.


Here’s our current, 2013 situation: we have not yet signed our girls up for a swim team even though they really like to swim. Caroline’s pinkie toe is still healing from a break and the practices have already started. We’ve joined a new club, further from our house. The team meets at 8:00 a.m. every morning–momma likes a sleep-in kind of a summer.

But the biggest thing is that both my girls would rather play mermaids and see how long they can hold their breath under water than swim against someone else. That’s what they are telling me.

Caroline is seven and I admit, I have not aggressively nurtured her interests as of yet. She has “passions,” per se–she insists she wants to be a writer, but we haven’t sent her away to Starving Artist Sleep-Away Camp.

Through the years she has tried a couple of gymnastics sessions, a couple of soccer clinics, and a couple of art classes. She’s joined Girl Scouts. That’s about it. And that actually feels like a lot to me.

When I was young (golly and gee) . . I had a backyard, a bike, a neighborhood I could run through. My mom rang a dinner bell.

Later I played some sports, went to some camps, took piano lessons.

For my siblings and me, life was one big buffet table. I was able to try new things at any age. I could pick and choose. I was allowed to quit the drums in the 5th grade because Mr. Everett stuck me on bass insisting I was the only one who “could keep the beat.”


This is not a wholly generational difference in parenting philosophy. In my day, there were driven parents raising driven kids, kids who honed in early on career paths and resume-building activities.

So I’m just going to go ahead and blame my parents now, for raising me the way they did.

I went to a liberal arts college. My mom and dad encouraged me to pursue “what I love,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

I’m an English teacher, for pete’s sake.

Yes, I love books and writing. Yes, I enjoy the students.

But I make a teacher’s salary.

Why didn’t my dad and mom strongly suggest me towards a more lucrative trade? Why didn’t they strong-arm me into liking math?

I could have been a rocket scientist who monopolizes book club discussions–you can do both.

Or why didn’t they start me early–really early–paying for private lessons in a sport that would get me somewhere. Sure, I played lacrosse, but so did 78% of the state of Pennsylvania. Why not fencing?

Now that I’m a mom, this whole “follow your heart/do what you love” parenting style is, frankly, stressing me out. Especially since it doesn’t seem like this type of parenting practice is necessarily en vogue.

How does a five-year-old know what is in her heart? Mine is consistently concerned with what is in her stomach (Nutella on a graham cracker) and what will be in her hands on her birthday (the Kit American Girl doll).


I do not blame my other peer parents–we are in this together.

I don’t know who to blame, really–all those willing to take my money under the auspices of taking care of my kids?

They’ve wanted my money since I was pregnant: prenatal yoga, preschool reservations. They’ve wanted my money since my kids could barely open their eyes: baby gyms, baby music classes. They’ve wanted my money as my girls have toddled into the big-kid world: karate, dance, heads-start art, fitness for the soul, head, and toes.

Maybe we want someone else to take care of our kids because the world is ugly and unsafe now. We are too afraid to let our kids explore neighborhoods on bikes, let them wade through creeks, fish in ponds, skateboard to the corner store.

When I was young (golly and gee) . . . I loved my tire swing. I played Running Bases and Kick the Can.

Maybe we’re worried that our kids are behind and won’t catch up. I don’t know if I’m ready to invest a lot of money and time to “nurture” interests in my children that may not be there at all, but if I don’t start helping my kids find their passions now, in ten to twelve years, they won’t get into college. Right?


A heard someone say his son was burnt out on soccer.

His son is 8.

Why are we living in a world where kids are burnt out on anything at age 8? And why, when I heard that, was my knee-jerk reaction my kids haven’t burned out on anything yet…what is wrong with me?


Ward, I’d like you to meet Tal Wilkenfeld. She’s 26 years old and plays a mean bass guitar. I caught her on the Palladia channel as I was watching some of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Concert. She was on stage at Madison Square Garden with Jeff Beck. She held her own with Sting, Buddy Guy, and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top.

She started playing guitar at the late age of 14 and seems to be doing just fine.

Golly and gee, there may be hope yet for kids these days.