The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry. (Robert Burns)
Moving at the end of the school year with the whole summer stretched out before us seemed like such a good idea at the time… not that we really had any say in the timing. Instead, we arrived in our new town to find that we missed pretty much every deadline and audition for things that looked interesting to us. To make it worse, many of the friends we had in the new neighborhood were crazy busy with their own summer plans and local support groups had pretty much shut down for the summer. So when we were gifted with a family pool pass by some wonderful church members as a “welcome to Pittsburgh” gift, we were thrilled. And when we found out there was a (FREE!) swim team that met daily at the pool the kids could walk to in 10 minutes, we were ecstatic.
And by we I mean me. The two oldest children seemed rather neutral about the whole thing.
Perhaps it was the fact that they had to trudge there and back, up one of Pittsburgh’s famous hills that was so steep it had steps carved into it.
Perhaps it was the fact that their swim coach made it clear that this was all Very Serious Business.
Perhaps it was the fact that swim practice began when they usually had their lunch.
Whatever it was, they weren’t the most diligent swimmers on the team. Going to the Carnegie Science Center? Exploring a local park? Matching socks? Oh Mom, I can skip practice just this once and join in!
And, I’m ashamed to say, I went along with it. When you have six children, life’s a lot easier when you can just load ‘em all up and take ‘em with you wherever you go. And when you have Toddler Twinkies, life’s a lot easier when your Bigs are around. True fact.
So the summer went along and sometimes they went to swim team practice and sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes it was a little too cold and sometimes, oddly enough, it was “too hot.” It didn’t help that all they had were practices and no meets, save one big all-city meet held first weekend in August.
And when I say big?
(No, not the ducks. Beyond the ducks.)
And here’s Katie Grace talking with her coach, who is wearing a tie. Apparently we were mistaken and swim team is Very Serious Business indeed.
So… we’ll skip ahead after the part where my children came in dead last in all their heats, shall we? Because it really didn’t bother them that much. Michael found the whole thing vaguely amusing, especially when they clapped after he finally finished swimming the Olympic-length pool and then there was that one time that Katie Grace actually came in THIRD… from last. And they were fine with it. Not thrilled, maybe, but just as it had been a pleasant way to spend an hour on a hot day throughout the summer, so too was it just one more experience to them. A chance to hang with friends and buy sugar-laden snacks and cheer other children on.
But it bothered me.
I watched these other kids swim and strive and not come in last and it stuck in my mommy craw.
Next year, I told them, we’d do better. Now that we knew what to expect, we knew what we had to do. We’d go to practice daily. Heck, we’d go to BOTH practices daily. I’d buy them swim caps. I’d buy them goggles that didn’t break the moment a baby touched them. I’d buy them Speedos.
OK, I probably wouldn’t buy them Speedos. But I would do what I could up to that point to make sure they had a better shot at, if not winning, at least not coming in last, next summer.
I had stars in my eyes, imagining the untapped talent my offspring would show next year when they came back to the All-City Swim Meet.
Katie Grace, looking bemused, said “OK, sure, whatever.”
Michael? “I think I’m going to stick with cello.”
And that’s how it is with children. We have fantasies about how they’re going to be the next Big Thing and all they want is 50 cents to go and buy a Rice Krispie treat at the snack table. We plan to send them to the Olympics and all they want is to take a nap.
And that’s OK. I know I’m the one who needs to adjust my expectations. It’s OK to give them opportunities and chances and even a little nudge every now and again. It’s not OK to push them into the deep end of the pool. So I’ll keep finding them opportunities and let them dabble and play and maybe even fail while they search for their great passion. And if this helped them rule swimming out as a future hobby slash career, maybe it wasn’t such a waste after all.