Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Swim Mom Boot Camp

If you wonder where I went this summer, and why I didn't post, it's because I went to Swim Mom Boot Camp.

I started this season as a proud but reasonable human being who swore that we would not let swimming take over our family and our lives, that we would do the bare minimum to meet the requirements of the kid's team and her dreams of moderate success. I ended the season more animal than woman, a creature subsisting on tumblers full of Starbucks and the tears of other swim clubs' children. I screamed "GO! GO! GOOOOOOOO!" from crowded and overheated bleachers until my voice gave out. I wore team colors and spirit wear. Hell, I even bought a team coffee mug perfect for carrying spiked coffee to Saturday night finals.

I sold out. I drank the Kool-Aid. I made small talk with other swim parents who were one click to the right of being complete strangers. Small talk! I don't do that.

I even (gasp!) bought my daugher a fast suit.

When I look in the mirror, I barely recognize my own tired face. This could be because the humidity inside heated natatoriums steams the mirrors. But I'm going with the whole fatigue and shock-and- awe thing.

I was willing to do all this because I believed that Ainsley's success this season would be the last success she'd see for a couple of years. The plan was that we would devote ourselves wholeheartedly to swim for her last season in the 10-and-under age group, for once she aged up to the 11-12 group, things would be harder. She wouldn't be expected to make cuts and finals. We could, as we had done in previous seasons, allow ourselves to fade into the background.

But funny things happen when you play the game. You rise from obscurity and make yourself known. Sometimes it's impossible to just fade back into apathy and mediocrity once you've shown coach-type people your potential as both an athlete and an athletic supporter. (Ba-dum-dum.) So instead of going back to being bleacher wallpaper and middle-of-the-packers in the first year of this new age group, the kid done got herself, and by proxy, us, promoted to the performance group. Where the kids are expected to truly compete. And the parents to participate. And not miss practices, and swim in every meet. And sign our names in blood on the dotted lines.

I kid you not--the invitation to join this group actually said, "If you accept this invitation, you are putting swim above all other activities." It's worded like a fricking commandment. Thou shalt have no other gods before swim.

It's intense. And stressful. And time-consuming. There were days this summer that I looked at my husband and said, "I can't do this anymore. I need my life back."

And yet.

There is unspeakable joy in watching a child celebrate an unexpected top-10 finish. Ainsley was not one of her team's superstars who always won everything, so her underdog and most-improved status made every trip to finals all the sweeter. I got to watch my kid's team win state. I saw the pride on Ainsley's face when she told me that her coach singled her out for praise during an extremely difficult practice set. I stood breathless on the shore of a lake as my only child swam a kilometer in open water, with the kid telling me after that it was both the hardest and best thing she's ever done.

It was a lot of work for her. And for us. But never in my life have I had more concrete proof that hard work pays off.

It all started over again last week as Ainsley had her first practice in her new age group. She was thrilled, and ready for a new challenge, and committed to being the best swimmer she can be. I was mostly overwhelmed.

But I've been to camp. I've got this.

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