February 25, 2012

Confessions of a Swim Mom

My children amaze me sometimes, often in fact.  They have the strength and bravery to do harder things than I ever did at their age or even do now in many ways. 

Every time I watch them get up on a start block and dive in the water I think of everything that race represents for them.  I think of all that brought them to that moment and I am so proud of them, no matter what the clock says or where they finish in the pack they are racing at the moment.

I have a confession to make.   I never wanted to be a sports mom.  Really, I mean it.  We had a house rule.  Only one sport at a time.  No I do not mean one sport per kid, I mean one sport at a time.  So when Maria played soccer unless Ciaran could be on her team (they were occasionally) he was waiting until her season was over and the next season was his and she had to sit out.  The whole family went to practices, games, and supported the one participating and the other kids waited their turn.  We had this whole season rotation worked out and the kids were content.  They were young, they had no choice and they accepted it. 

I was the mom who refused to let my kids learn how to ice skate until they were old enough that I knew it was too late to play hockey effectively here in Minnesota.  Hockey scared me: too much time, too much money, crazy obsessed parents, insane schedules, high expectations on young children, my list went on and on.  I am fully aware of the irony of this now being a swim mom.  Everything I said about hockey could be said about swimming in addition to other swimming oddities and here we are fully in the throes of year round competitive swimming, three kids in with no end in sight. 

We had another rule, notice the trend of rules, no swim lessons until you were willing to put your own head under the water and you could do it independently.  Mom and dad were not getting in the water for paid lessons.  We would take you swimming ourselves, encourage you even try to coax you to put your head under water but you had to be willing to do it on your own and to really want swim lessons.  Then it was swim lessons in the lake with the Red Cross teenagers.  If it was raining, you swam, if it was 90 degrees you swam, if it was 65 degrees and windy you swam.  In Minnesota this can all happen in the same week and did one year.  This was my oldest two kids introduction to swimming.  How in the world did they ever love this sport enough to want to do this all the time?

I blame Michael Phelps, well I also thank him, for the best thing that happened to our family, even if I went in kicking and screaming.  Long time readers of this blog know we don't watch TV, we don't even receive TV channels in our house.  Why does this matter in a post about swimming?  Well in order to watch something on TV we really have to want to and it is quite an ordeal with computers, digital receivers, external antennas running through windows, you get the picture.  The Olympics is one of the few things that qualify in our home to be worth the work and our time to watch.  Beijing 2008 Michael Phelps was the story and we watched every one of his races as a family, no matter the time it was on.  After it was all done Maria said to me "You mean you can swim like a sport not just in the lake? This is what I want to try next."   

Who knew where that simple statement would take us.  She was nine years old.  Off we went to the local pool and signed up for a "swim team" it was not intense, an hour a week and they were not very organized or honestly very good, knowing what I know now.  She loved the water but was very unhappy with her "team".  She was determined to find something better so she made me find a better club through research.  We found a club and she started practicing 4 days a week for an hour a day.  I thought what have we gotten ourselves into?  At the same time I thought the intensity of a club like that would turn her off.  After all this was the girl who said "What is the point of soccer I hate running up and down a field all day."  Surely she would not enjoy something that made her look at a black line for an hour a day while she swam up and down a pool with nothing else to do.  I was wrong, very wrong.

Three years and one more club later we are quite settled into the swimming world.  Both girls made the state team this season and we will have attended something like 20 swim meets this season when it finishes.  All three kids swim and I have a Swim Taxi bumper sticker that defines a large portion of my day :)  My youngest was not subjected to swim lessons in the lake, instead she had private lessons with swim team coaches as her learn to swim. There are certain benefits to being the littlest :)

We spend our weekends literally "camped" in junior highs around the state playing cards, working on tablets, reading books and getting to know other families who have chosen a similar path.  On a typical weekend we could spend anywhere from 10 to 25 hours doing this over the course of two days.  My house has a perma-chlorine smell, I can never find a clean towel even though I have close to thirty in the house and the owner of the local swim shop knows me by name.  There is no way this is less time, money, or craziness than hockey would have been.  At least it is warmer, which given typical Minnesota winters I appreciate.  You know you are a swim parent when you keep your birks and shorts out year round and use them.  

So what turned this reluctant sports mom into a full swim mom? My kids of course and all the benefits our family has seen as a result of swimming.  I can't even begin to explain all of the benefits but there has been a complete transformation in our oldest and much of it is due to her experiences in swimming.  There are all the physical benefits of course.  Life long healthy sport, easy on the joints, building lung capacity, strength, working both sides of the brain at the same time, building myelin, general fitness.  That has all come and in spades.  The girl who never wanted to run up a soccer field trains for 12 hours a week now and sometimes does additional work at home. She has seen great physical benefits in general fitness and strength and she knows those will only continue.  It is wonderful that she found a physical activity that she loves and will continue with.

Honestly though it is the unexpected benefits that have come from swimming that have kept me supportive of it.  In this sport you have to face a lot of things on your own.  You have to get up on the blocks in front of sometimes hundreds of people all looking at you in a bathing suit during your awkward formative years.  Then you dive in and race your peers including many of your friends but each time you swim you are really racing yourself, constantly trying to best your last time.  It is you and the clock and how you perform.  There is no team mate to pass off a bad performance on, no judge to blame, no other excuses.  There is just you and your individual performance to evaluate.  The longer you stay in the sport the harder it is to best your times each time and you need to find other successes for each race.   It is a sport that constantly causes growth every time you swim and offers many hills to climb and plateaus along the way.  It requires mental and physical toughness.  This sport builds and challenges confidence in unique ways.  I have seen so much growth in my kids that I can attribute to their time on swim team. 

I have watched them set goals and then work amazingly hard to achieve them.  I have seen them face challenges and unexpected obstacles and work through them to overcome them and still reach goals.  I have watched them adjust goals when needed and face what they consider failures with grace.  I have watched them handle success with humility.  I have watched them be brave.  I have watched them work through being nervous and through fear.

I have watched them build great friendships.  I have made great friendships.  Just last week I sat at a meet and cried together with another mom when Maria made her first state time, a goal she has been working towards for two years over a variety of obstacles.  The fact that my friend cried with me speaks highly of my friend and of this sport that bonds us together. 

We are making memories that will be a large part of my children's childhood memories when they grow up.  I know they are positive now, I pray they will be looked back upon with favor in the future as well.  I love that they are family memories and that all three kids are sharing this bond.  It may not last forever but I will enjoy it while it is here.  I have seen them draw together in new ways as they share their swimming experiences and look to each other for support and encouragement and sympathy that only a swimmer can give to another swimmer, how much cooler is it that they also have the sibling relationship. 

So here I am years later with all my "rules" thrown out the door.  I spend my weeknights shuttling kids to and from pools and fitting in good nutrition as best we can.  I spend my weekends waiting for hours on end to cheer my kid through a few thirty second races.  I am not just a sports mom but I a swim mom and I would not have it any other way for this moment in time. 

1 comment:

  1. LOL - how perfectly you express it. Now we just need to get you on the pool deck as an official... It is so much fun being down in the action.

    I saw your oldest at the end of the lane when your son was swimming today, cheering him on. How fantastic was that.