June 05, 2012

I Let The Kids Do Something I Swore I'd Never Let Them Do

In the third grade, I broke my arm. I got my cast off a couple of days after school ended. I remember getting my cast off and then driving straight to my first day as the newest member of the summer swim team with my arm still all shriveled up and hanging weirdly at my side after not being able to use it for a million years while it was healing.

Two things happened on that day that stand out in my mind. One: it was cold and some of the older boys on the swim team kept pointing to the deep end and cracking up. I finally realized what all of the commotion was about when the head coach jumped in the water and resurfaced holding a dead rat that was frozen stiff that had been taking up residence at the bottom of the pool. And two: I decided that I LOVED swimming with my whole heart.

Summer swim team was what I looked forward to all year long. All of my besties were on the team. For several summers we would spend every morning going back and forth in the pool and laughing our heads off. We would sit at swim meets on Wednesday nights and eat popsicles and swim in races and throw the coaches in if we won the meet and then have slumber parties afterwards. It was pure bliss.

I decided when I was 10 that I was going to be an Olympic swimmer. My parents wanted to invest in my dream, so they sent me to swim camp with former Olympian and gold medal winner, Mary T. Meagher. During the camp, some of the other girls were picking on me. I told Mary T. about it she pulled me into her dorm room at the college where the camp was being held. She sat me down on the bed and said something to the effect of, "Megan. You do the best you can. You do what you think is right and don't worry about what anyone else says about it!" I should have paid her millions for that awesome life advice, but at the time, I just wanted the other 11 year old girls to like me!
Me with Mary T. Meagher in 1992.

Mary T. was my idol. That is until Summer Sanders popped onto the scene and she won all sorts of gold in Barcelona. I can remember spending hours in my room with the new Speedo catalog cutting out pictures of Summer in the newest swim suits and dreaming of the day when I would swim in the Olympics. Heck- I still have the autographed post card (postmarked in 1993) that Summer Sanders sent me. The day I got that postcard in the mail I felt about 20 feet taller and was just convinced that swimming was the best thing that could ever be.

Fast forward a few years and that laid back summer swim team turned into year round ultra competitive swimming. The kind of swimming that you wake up for at 4:45 AM so that you could get a couple hours of practice in before school and then turned around and put in 2 or 3 more hours of practice after school. It was intense and all consuming.  Somewhere around age 14 it just stopped being fun altogether. I felt like I was living in a pressure cooker. I felt like I could never train hard enough or be fast enough to fulfill all the expectations that others had for me or the expectations I had for myself.  I realized that while I was a decent swimmer, I just wasn't ever going to be the best, no matter how hard I worked. I was utterly miserable in the cut throat competitive world that I'd created. Not to mention that being around hard core swimmers with their tall, lanky bodies (not my body type at all) did a serious number on my self esteem and wrecked my body image. By age 16, I decided that I couldn't handle the anxiety and pressure that came with swimming and I said goodbye to the sport that I had once loved.

I told myself that if I ever had children that I would NEVER let them get involved with swimming. It was just too intense and I didn't want that for my future children. I decided that I'd be a low key soccer mom or a t-ball mom, but that I never ever wanted to be a swim mom.

I spent 10 years thinking that swimming was the devil. Then a couple of years ago we bought a summer gym membership at a charity auction. The gym had a pool and for the first time in nearly a decade I put on my cap and goggles and swam laps purely for fun and exercise. It was incredible. My body and mind remembered all the joy that came from the sport. I realized that it wasn't swimming that I hated- it was all the needless pressure. Without the pressure, swimming was fun again.

The moment came full circle for me this morning as Sadie and Noah suited up for their first ever summer swim team practice.

It turns out you can only be a soccer or t-ball mom if your kids want to actually play those sports (which my kids don't). My kids LOVE to swim. After much grappling with myself, I realized that I can't limit what my kids get involved with based on my own negative experience. After all- there were YEARS of FUN swimming experiences before I marred it up. Yes, it's something I said I'd never let them do, but I'm so glad that I allowed my mind to be changed.  And for the record- it's a developmental league where the focus in on learning the sport and having fun.  I'm totally good with that!

Sadie has lots of friends from school that are on the team. She and her gal pals were giggling in between their turns in the water. It brought back all those memories of sitting on blankets with my gal pals playing hand slap games in between races. Noah was all smiles and waved at me a million times with such enthusiasm from the other side of the pool. Those kids kicked and moved around in the water like little fish. There was so much JOY on their faces as they ran toward me after practice and exclaimed that swim practice was "the best thing ever!"

As a mom, I'm going to do my best to make sure that no one screws up that joy that they have for the sport. I'm going to sit on the pool deck and watch their sloppy, cute little strokes and awkward breaths and just revel in the fun that they are having. I couldn't care less if a single ribbon that they bring home is blue- as long as they are having fun and are learning the basics of being on a team. I can't wait to see what fun this foray into summer swimming will hold for them!

A blast from the past (circa 1995). Me (in the red bathing suit) making memories with all of my swimming pals. I'm so pumped at how many friends (and memories) my little swimmers will make this summer!

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