Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Swim season concludes

Summer swimming is a sport I have a lot of opinions about, both from my own experience and now, as a parent. I myself began swimming fairly late, around age 14, when my best friend convinced me to give it a try. I actually felt I had little choice, because she spent so much time at the pool that if I didn't join I would hardly see her. It was a really struggle, and I still remember one of the early practices when Coach Gary Bunch said: "OK, 500 warm-up!" I had, until that point, never swum 10 round-trip laps of the pool consecutively in my whole life, much less as a warm-up. When I won the "110%" trophy at my team banquet at the end of the season, it was clearly not in acknowledgement of my speed, but my sheer tenacity in not drowning for the whole 2 month season.

That experience has strongly colored my parenting. First, I recognize that learning to really swim (as opposed to staying afloat) at age 14 was harder than it should be, and so this year I signed Emily (at 8) and Hazel (at 5) both on our pool's team, even though Hazel's crowning accomplishment of the junior swim team season is finishing a 13 meter lap of the shallow end. No matter the short distance - she was (and I am) terribly happy to give her a taste of success so young.
With Emily, of course, my expectations are higher. She bears the cross of the oldest child, always carrying the burden of my own regrets on her sturdy young shoulders. I try awfully hard not to let my own impossible dreams infect her view of her own success. And yet, I can't help it. I watched her learn to do monkey bars at age 4, a feat I can perform only with great difficulty even now (and never could as a child). The same year, she learned to bike, 8 years younger than my own first success on two wheels. And though she swam this year, it always seemed it was something she did because 1) I signed her up for it, 2) the doughnuts after Friday practice, and 3) the parties after the swim meets. Her light-blue cap features a panda bear and the words "Beijing Bound," but I don't think Emily has any concept why I bought it for her. I'm not sure I know, myself - somewhere between its being cute and its harboring the dreams of a 37 year old woman who read International Velvet a few too many times as a teenager.
In her last meet of the season, Emily had yet to be part of a winning relay or individual event. She'd become resigned to being toward the end of the pack - not last, but with no risk of winning, either. But that day, the whole team did better. We still finished the season winless overall, but that day many swimmers won their races, and the whole meet we had hope, and excitement. In Emily's first race, she finished her anchor leg of it where the first swimmer left them: first place. Similarly, in her third race, Emily's leg started and ended with them winning; she'd upheld the good order.
While winning a relay has the glory of shared victory, individual accomplishments are dampened, generally. But in Emily's second relay, she had the kind of moment that makes sports addictive: she came from behind.

She told me later that the other team's swimmer was trying to chat with her before the race, but that she just looked at her and put on her goggles. The competitive bug must have firmly bitten me, because I didn't even reprove her for being aloof. In any case, Emily said afterward she could see when she was passing the other swimmer - this is her, on the left, just as she pulls ahead - and though she didn't use the word "satisfying," I could see it on the curl of her smiling-cat lips. Both the coach and the timers congratulated her afterward, and she said she really liked that.

I don't know believe Emily is addicted to swimming, and I don't think she has the least bit of interest in winter training. But at least we ended the season on a good note, and I can begin to hope that swimming has finally offered Emily its own rewards, rather than the imaginary victories thrust upon her by a poolside mom.

1 comment:

Ser said...

"She bears the cross of the oldest child, always carrying the burden of my own regrets on her sturdy young shoulders."


One thing I have always loved about you, Nancy, is how you speak the stark truth about this parenting gig. You have helped me so much over the years by doing this.