Swim team is great summer exercise for kids. But some parents will require exorcism before the season is over. I am one of those parents. I am on a Mission Viejo from God.
All I wanted was a commercial-free hour for the kids every morning. A brief break in our long summer days of togetherness. A chance for me to load the dishwasher and make the beds.
What I got -- what the kids got -- is something else entirely. I am rewriting my own failed history as an athlete on their little, nut-brown backs.
"This has become a problem for you, you know that, don't you?" my husband has said more than once. He has taken to calling me "Mrs. Capriati."
I have developed a frightening emotional stake in my children's success. And though that is acceptable in a Little League dad, it is unbecoming in a mother. I guess I am supposed to love them no matter where they are seeded in their event.
It began last summer, when my daughter quickly improved from a child who would not get her face wet to one who was regularly completing the individual medley, a grueling series of four strokes. Nothing shifts a parent into overdrive faster than signs of a prodigy. I cut back on meat at the grocery store so I could pay for a private coach.
Meanwhile, my son's declarations that swimming was "stupid and boring" hid his deep and unspeakable dread of failure. Nothing shifts a parent into overdrive faster than signs of fear in a child. I cut back on movie rentals and magazine subscriptions so I could pay for two sessions with the private coach.
From September until May, they swam in preparation for this season. Twice a week -- through soccer season, through baseball, through ballet recitals and dance rehearsals -- they would trudge to the county indoor pool to swim a mile or more. In the bitter cold of January and February, their damp hair would freeze in dreadlocks as they walked to the car. Money for the snack machines kept them on task.
It has paid off this summer in a fistful of ribbons. (I won only one in six years as a swimmer.) But not enough are blue, and I pace the pool deck and fret.
The little girl who is currently out-sprinting my daughter used be a delightful child in my eyes. Her mother used to be my very good friend. Now, I am hoping they will move.
The boy who often out-touches my son at the wall used to be my idea of a role model for Joe -- a deep thinker, a kind child with a work ethic any mother would want for her own. Now, I am thinking if this kid is so good in the water, let him sail.
My children are unperturbed by my ill-disguised churnings. Jessie continues to think of her races as unpleasant interruptions in her circuits past the snack bar. She goes to meets to chat. Joe has taken to charging me 25 cents a lap. Bonuses if he places.
"You need to come to terms with this," my husband says, as I hide their lap-time charts under a stack of mail.
My swim team involvement is total: I am in charge of concessions at the meets.
Suddenly, it is important to me, a mother, that children eat doughnuts and drink soda at 8:15 in the morning. I have a financial stake in the boiled hot dogs that sit like Play-Doh in the stomachs of all those swimmers on the starting blocks. The more Airheads and Laffy Taffy we sell, the more we can pay a stroke-and-turn coach for the team.
Oh yes, the team. Swimming is a team sport, I am ruefully reminded as I watch team after team swamp us in its wake. I am frustrated by our lack of success this season, and I look to place blame.
Silently, I accuse a mother gossiping near me: What were you doing in 1979 that you couldn't have given birth to a child for the 15-16 age group? What was so important then? Your career?
What were you doing last winter, is my unspoken accusation of another mother, that you couldn't have driven your kids to workouts at the indoor pool twice a week? A little ice? Wha-a-a-t? Don't you have insurance?
Soon, this swim season will be over and I can relax in my quest for the perfect start, the fastest split time, the cheapest hot dogs.
And as for next season -- maybe next season the kids can shave
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