Here is a sample conversation I would have had with the kid last year right before one of her swim meets:
Kid: I'm nervous.
Me: Don't be nervous. Just go out and do your best. Your coaches want you guys to go out there and have fun and do your strokes right. You'll get beads for your swim chain if you do!
Kid: What if I don't win?
Me: Don't get too caught up in winning. Just see if you can get better times than last year. Remember, you're only competing with yourself.
Kid: I'm not nervous any more.
Me: Good! Now go kick some butt.
And here is the actual conversation I had with her before her first meet of the new season, also her first meet in her new age level with her new coach.
Kid: I'm nervous.
Me: Don't be nervous. Just go out and do your best. Try to have faster times than last year; that's all we ask.
Kid: That's not what Coach says.
Me: What does Coach say?
Kid: That we should go out and win our heats.
Me: Oh. Okay, then. Do what Coach says. It's about winning. Apparently.
Kid: I'm still nervous.
Me: Yeah. Me, too. Kick butt though, right?
It's a new game, you guys. And things just. Got. Serious.
It was a nice two years of award beads, encouragement, praise, "fun practices" where they played tag in the water as reward for surviving a swim meet, Halloween and Christmas parties, and lots of that self-esteem-raising "Every kid is special!" stuff. But Ainsley aged up over the summer and left the fun behind. Now the prizes are real and the points do matter. Yay?
Participation ribbons are a thing of the past. Welcome to the real world, kiddo. If you want a ribbon, you better touch the pad before the kid next to you. May the odds be ever in your favor.
This will be a new world for all of us. It will not just be an adjustment for the kid, but for us as well. Swim meets are not fun for parents, but for two seasons we could rest assured that we at least wouldn't have to stick around for finals. And the season would end earlier for us than for those poor suckers whose kids made state junior olympic cuts, who I am sure were super happy for their litle overachievers, but who always shuffled around every swim meet looking like zombies and who might as well have been pitching tents in the lobby of the natatorium for the hours they kept there. We had a nice existence of being able to show up at meets, cheer for a few hours, and still make it home in time for margaritas, waving excitedly to the zombie-parents as we left.
I have a feeling those days are over. We've been bitten, and will soon run fevers, and then the zombies...they be us.
For our child still loves the water, even with a more serious coach and more serious expectations. She has risen to the challenge. I'm not bragging when I tell you she did shockingly well at this first meet, because everyone on her team did; nearly every girl in her new age group got within striking distance of a state J.O. cut, or heard her name out loud as a top-ten finisher, or walked out with at least one ribbon with a number on it instead of the word, "Participant." Between events, Ains studied heat sheets and time standards and lane placements as thoroughly as an Olympic color commentator. Not because that was part of her team expectations, but because she suddenly realized..."I'm kind of good at this." And without the help of any self-esteem chat, no words to the effect of "Everyone's a winner," she felt like a champion. Hard work pays off, kids. Who would have thought?
Last week, she told anyone who listened,
"I really, really, really want a Furby."
This week, she tells anyone who listens,
"I really, really, really want a J.O. cut. And a Furby."
By Christmas morning, I have a feeling both will be in her possession. And life as we know it will never be the same.