Wednesday, May 28, 2008

End of the Spring and Here She Comes Back

Today’s the first swim team practice for the 2008 season. A few minutes from now, my almost 7yo will plunge into the chilly pool water for the first time this year. My husband will watch from a deck chair.

The Dolphins (swimming is big in Washington DC, and 70% of the teams are some variation of a dolphin. I’d have called us the Sharks, or the Piranhas, or something equally intimidating, but we’re the Dolphins) are our neighborhood swim team. Open to all neighborhood children ages 5 through 18, of all abilities, the team has been in existence in one form or another for over 40 years. All of the current coaches are former Dolphins swimmers, and elderly neighbors whose children and grandchildren finished swimming decades ago still come to the pool for the Wednesday evening and Saturday morning meets. Backstroke flags are strung, music blares, the snack bar does a brisk nacho and pizza business, and competition for good seats on the deck is fierce.

My son is not a natural athlete. He has tremendous physical energy, and can run and jump for hours, but he’s not fast, and he’s not coordinated. He takes after his mother. He has no interest in most organized sports, and we’ve decided not to sign him up for baseball or soccer until he asks to play. He first started asking about swim team during our second summer here; he saw the kids in their trunks and tshirts and thought that he’d like to be part of that. So we signed him up last season, just before his 6th birthday. The first few weeks were touch and go. The water was cold, the older kids were scary, and at his first two meets, he was terrified and refused to swim in his events. We talked to his coach, and she said that it happens every year; even more outgoing or athletic kids are struck with stage fright on meet day; the whistles, scoring table, banners, and noise can be overwhelming. Give it time, she said, just keep bringing him to practice, and we’ll get him in the pool at a meet.

This was reassuring. Our coach is a high school teacher (she also coaches high school swimming) and has been swimming competitively and teaching swimming for 30 years. She has managed to create an atmosphere in which my neighbor’s 12 year old daughter, one of the top swimmers in the city, remains challenged and continues to improve, and my shy 6 year old Lego fanatic, who spends hours every day in his own world, is also welcomed and encouraged.

Two days after his 6th birthday, we were at our 3rd meet, a Wednesday night “B” meet. The “B” meets are a little more relaxed, and count for a bit less in the standings. They’re untimed (unlike the Saturday “A” meets, which must end by 11:45 so that the pools can open at noon), so all swimmers can swim in their age group’s events. 6yo and I were sitting on the grass, watching the meet, when one of the young assistant coaches came striding toward us, clipboard in hand, ponytail swinging. “We need you!” she said.

6yo panicked for a moment. “I don’t want to dive!” he said. “I can’t go in headfirst!”

“You don’t have to! Just jump when the buzzer sounds, and swim to the other side. You did two laps today, I know you can do one! Come on!”

I started to coax him, and then my neighbor (mother of the 12 year old star) took him by the hand and gently marched him over to the starting blocks. She helped him with his goggles, whispered in his ear, and walked away. I was grateful to her for that; I still am.

The young swimmers on our team have older “buddies” who encourage them and tease them and cheer them on. My son’s buddy last summer was a bubbly, popular 15 year old girl. She quickly gathered a group of her friends at the start, and started chanting his name. The event (boys’ 8 and under 25 freestyle) was announced. The buzzer sounded. He looked over at me for a split second, and he jumped. His buddy and her friends were screaming his name, and he turned, smiling and waving, several times, reaching the other side of the pool dead last in his heat. He accepted congratulations from parents and coaches, dripping and beaming, becoming serious just for a moment as the head coach whispered something in his ear; he nodded earnestly in response. (I learned later that she was gently explaining that one swims to the finish FIRST, and THEN turns to give a shout out to one’s ladies. Who knew, right?) It was time to celebrate; I’d promised him that after he swam his first meet, he could have a WHOLE order of nachos and a SPRITE. My son is a naturally happy child, though shy, but I never saw him as happy as he was at that moment, wrapped in a towel, still accepting congratulations from parents and teenage teammates, with a bowl of nachos on his lap and a Sprite sipped through a straw.

It all starts again tonight. I’m psyched.


Anonymous said...

It's the little things in life that make it all worth it, don't you think?

Please pass on my wishes for a fun season to him!

CDP said...

I'm going to call you this week.

Anonymous said...

I hope he does well. That being said, I would jump into a cold pool for nachos and a sprite also. Hell, for a candy bar I'd jump in an empty pool.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

What a great post. Your son reminds me of me when I was that age. Tell the lad he's got fans all over the country now.

susan said...

Ah, the joys of being a parent. Lovely post.

CDP said...

Suze--and I wouldn't make you do that, you can have nachos and a Sprite just for being you.

Dr. M--yes, this is the child who wanted to picket the White House 2 years ago (he wasn't quite 5) so he reminds me of you, too! I'll let him know that he has an admirer in Tennessee.

Susan--Little moments like that make all of the hard parts worthwhile. I still choke up when I think of all those teenage kids crowding around and high fiving him.

enc said...

ohgawd, I'm such a sap, I puddled up reading this. I even covered my mouth.

Anonymous said...

CDP - Wonderful story. It sounds like you have a budding Dolphin on your hands. Well worth the nachos and the Sprite.

FranIAm said...

I loved reading this- I was holding my breath. Beautiful.

Mr. He Is is a big swimmer still, goes almost every day.

Thanks for sharing this.

CDP said...

enc--I love saps, I happen to be one myself. I was verklempt when I was writing it, it was an emotional moment for us!

Spartacus--Thanks, and yes, he earned his nachos!

Fran--Thanks! I swim almost every day in the summer, but only occasionally in the winter...indoors just isn't the same!

BeckEye said...

I hope he has a great season.

I'm not much of a swimmer. I like being in water, but I kind of just flop around like a manatee.

Whiskeymarie said...

Even I was a little "awwww..." here.
Tell your son he more than likely swims MUCH faster and MUCH better than I do, or could. It's actually kind of sad to watch, truth be told.

And, on a side note: I want to send you your prizes (yes, there are two) from the "Only ever Non-Annual NKotB contest", but your e-mail kept bouncing back. If you are brave enough to send an address, thou shall be yours. I promise to not steal your identity or show up on your doorstep drunk looking for a place to crash. If not, that's fine too, no worries.

CDP said...

BeckEye--thanks! I'm sure you look nothing like a manatee; I'm picturing a sleek and stylish shark.

WM--woo hoo! I'll fix the email address, I have no idea what's wrong (other that I'm a tard when it comes to technical matters). I can swim pretty well freestyle, but my backstroke is ridiculous. I know this, because one of the lifeguards at the pool told me so.

Robert Rouse said...

I love Sly and the Family Stone!

Them Summer Days, Those Summer Days.

CDP said...

RR--me too, and I just love that song.

Jess Wundrun said...

I think that it would be too confusing to have a team named Piranha in the metro DC area. The kids would get confused with lobbyists. {groan}

My 7yo starts swimteam in two weeks, with the possibility of early practice next week. (It's Wisconsin, the temperature has only been above 70 about three days so far). Anyway, I'm thinking that my life is going to change because it's five days a week practice and meets every Saturday. She wants to do it, so I hope she's going to like it. Go Gators! Go Dolphins!

CDP said...

Jess-- I hope she likes it too! It does take a lot of time, they practice every day and have meets twice a week, but I figure we're at the pool all the time in the summer anyway. I was actually going to make a similar joke about how Pirahnas would make everyone think that the Bush White House was swimming. Gators, that's another good one!

The Guv'ner said...

That is the CUTEST thing i have ever heard! So funny!! I bet he was so proud of himself too.

And it gave me pangs to go swimming. I love swimming. It's a pain in the ass in this city for some reason...

Matt said...

CDP, your making the right choice about not forcing him into sports until he's ready. Swimming is the perfect way to get him going. It's an individual sport that allows you go progress at your own speed but also provide you with great teammates that cheer you on.

But if he gets good at it you will hate the 5 am practice. Just a warning.

Tell him to keep going because he will keep getting better.



CDP said...

Guv--thanks! Yes, I missed swimming when I lived in the city; a huge advantage of the suburbs is the many neighborhoods with pools.

Matt--thanks! Yes, swimming was really driven by our son, and he seems to really like it. He's not the fastest, but he really loves being part of something.

Distributorcap said...

isnt it amazing how things like this mean SO much to parents and kids alike -- that was great

and hopefully it will be the start of more great things from a great kid


CDP said...


Dr. Zaius said...

What a great story! I want some nachos.

CDP said...

Dr. Z--and you shall have them!

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