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. 

February 20, 2012

Returning Home

Tonight driving home from a swim meet Maria and I discussed recent months and my return to working outside the home.  I have recently been able to leave my job teaching at the college and I am now able to return home full time starting this week.  I will still keep tutoring a few students regularly but otherwise I will be home full time again.  For this we all are thankful. 

Maria expressed how glad she was that I would be home full time again.  Even as I worked from home much of the time having a job outside the home really changed the way our house functioned and in general it was not for the better.  We all did what we had to do and made it work the best we could.  However, all of us agree it is better I am done with outside teaching responsibilities for now.  These few months made us all realize how committed we are to having a parent home full time and why it is truly important for our family.

For a brief moment I thought about the idea of returning to school for my PhD with plans to eventually get a full time job teaching at a university when the kids were a bit older.  Now I know that is not the right path for us at this time.  Who knows where the future will bring us and I am thankful that as the need arises I am able to find a job and help the family out financially but the best help I can be is to be home full time and dedicating more of my energy to their home schooling and the overall well being of our home and family. 

I love teaching, I am an excellent teacher.  I can teach at all levels from the youngest through college.  I enjoyed parts of teaching college but overall I still feel one on one teaching and tutoring is the most effective form of education whenever it is possible.  I am thankful to be able to provide this style of education for my own children and for the students I am able to tutor.  I am thankful for the privilege to do so as well.

We always said we were committed to home schooling and to having a stay at home parent.  This year has really made us evaluate those claims and determine how much we meant them.  We have discovered we truly meant them and these are some of our highest family values and things we want to preserve about our family.  Sometimes you learn the most about yourself, your family and your values during times of hardship and trials.  The trials are hard but you come out stronger and more confident of your beliefs on the other end of them. 

February 2, 2012

Why History?

After her third grade standardized test Maria got very angry with me about how much history I teach in comparison to what she was expected to know.  She came out of the test saying mom they only asked me what these three men had in common (they were all presidents of the US) otherwise it was graphs, charts, and reading so why do you make me learn all this history?

I don't teach to the tests, I teach what I want them to learn and what I think will make them a better life long learner and person.  This means I teach a lot of history in addition to reading, writing, math, and science.  Those would probably be the priorities in our house.  Of course we still do spelling, grammar, geography, vocabulary, logic, music, art, pe and other standard lessons.  But when push comes to shove if we are down to the things I spend a lot of time on as a teacher the first 5 subjects are it.

My kids probably feel like we do more history because it is the one subject I read aloud to the younger two and I always engage in extensive conversation and question/answer sessions.  It is something that will come up sometimes when we drive in the car or talk over dinner.  We often tie current events back to historical ones and try to name the similar patterns.

I teach history chronologically and worldwide from nomads to modern.  We use Story of the World for two complete four year cycles and then move to different texts depending on the topics.  I stop when we come to the American Revolution and spend about 2 full months on this time period and follow American history then through the Civil War before returning to world history.

I teach my kids to spot the patterns in history and understand the common motivations for certain events.  My kids can tell you the main reasons people go to war throughout history and sometimes when we are reading about a time in history they will stop me and say "I know where this is going" and then predict the wars and the causes for them.  We spend a lot of time talk about inventors and how they spotted problems in the world that needed a solution and then worked to find them.  I challenge my kids to think about their world and spot problems that we need new inventions to fix and try to brainstorm themselves on possible ways to fix the problems.

I make them read historical biographies during their summer reading. We talk about the common traits in some of the worlds greatest inventors, scientists and historical leaders.  We discuss how we might approach a world problem if we were forced to lead a country to make a decision.  We do this from the time they are in second grade with the complexity of answers and my expectations increasing as they age and learn more. 

I did not love history until high school, it was all just memorizing names and dates and events I did not care about.  Then  I had a teacher who would not let us use textbooks in our class and she told history like a story.  She did not care much about particular dates as long as we could place things along a rough timeline and understood the story arc of history.  This clearly had a lasting impact on me :)  When I headed to college I majored for some of the time in political science mostly because I have always been drawn to the political leaders and systems throughout history. Even my modern classes seemed to always draw me back to the historical roots and patterns to see where we came from, how we got where we are and predict where we are likely to go and a reasonable guess at the outcome.   I ended up going different directions for the remainder of college and graduate school but a part of me always still loved history.

I read presidential biographies for fun :)  I read historical fiction as an escape.  I enjoy political thrillers.  I still like history.  So I suppose that influences the way I teach it.  I also truly believe that history repeats itself in predictable and patterned ways and it helps to understand the past to understand the present and predict the future.

Just last week we discussed why the Canadian separation from England went so different from the American one, as it came after the American Revolution and had all the lessons learned from that to be considered.  When we discuss the years of civil rights abuses in our country we discuss how our treatment of black Americans was different than the treatment of the Jewish people in Germany.  We discuss similarities and differences and how history often can teach us to make better choices if we listen.  We discuss the main causes of war and conflict often and my kids understand battles over resources, ideology, and power better than most their age and even many older than them. 

I teach history so much because I believe it is important and it will affect my kids for the rest of their lives.  The lessons they learn through the stories of history will help them in whatever career or life path they chose for themselves later.  Just as it is important for them to read and write and understand numbers, they need to understand where we came from and all that the past can teach us so we can move forward in the future.  That is why I spend so much time on history.

This blog post is probably not much shorter than the answer I gave my third grader back when she asked why and includes many of the same reasons I gave her :)  You would think that would stop my kids from asking me why :)  I love that my long answers encourage rather than discourage my kids and that they truly are curious about the world around them.  They have a deep desire to understand the reasons we make the decisions we do and how our choices can affect not just ourselves but those around us.  They are starting to look at the world around them and wonder how they can make it better themselves. This I believe comes out of learning history the way we do. 

I recently realized we were needing more field trips in our school days.  With a 7th, 5th and 3rd grader it is easy to slip into the routine of workbooks and typical school studies.  Still when I look back to when I had an 8, 6, and 4 year old we were on field trips at least once a week.  My current 8 year old needs this as well so I need to do more of it for her,  2012 plans to be the year of field trips for our family.

We renewed family memberships and have been trying to take advantage of all opportunities we can.  We have discovered sometimes just an hour or two at the zoo or museum really is enough and worth the time invested.  The zoo is our destination today.  The third time in January.  The kids are now old enough to carry their own backpacks and bring their cameras and sketch books.  We find ourselves spending longer in fewer locations.  One day we simply spent three hours in the dolphin, shark and fish area.   I love that the kids can spend that much time and attention in one place digging a little deeper and simply just being. 

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