Swimming and the Art of Excellence

My Crab and My Fish: True Water Babies

So I’m at the swim club with Punksin and Pudding yesterday.

What was once an hour-long event has turned into about THREE hours, thanks to Punksin making it onto the swim team.

She started her Level 5 class last week Tuesday.

The teacher, who had been her teacher in Level 3, told her once again that she should try out for the swim team.

MY plan had been that she would try out in the fall – I figured she’d have the best shot of making it with that much more practice under her belt, but then the teacher implied that by the time fall came around tryouts would be done. Which seemed like bullshit since the club brochure clearly LISTS dates for fall tryouts, but I didn’t want to get blindsided and find out, oh, she couldn’t make it. Previous experience has shown me that these people don’t pay attention to their own fucking rules. Just to get INTO swim lessons, you have to attend a HUGE lottery and pray you get a good number. The book clearly states that NOTHING will start before 6:30. I got there at 6:00 and the goddamn thing was already under way. Fuckers.

Anyhow, so as not to be bested by their mediocre business practices, I asked the Aquatics Director to confirm when Punksin could tryout for the fall.

She said “Tomorrow.”

Uh, say what now?

That was last Tuesday.

So last WEDNESDAY, we tramp BACK over there and meet the Head Coach, who, upon being informed that the Aquatics Director told us to tryout that day, looked somewhat stunned. She was good-natured about it, told Punksin to suit up and get in the pool.

And she made her swim lap after lap.

Backstroke. Elementary backstroke. Breaststroke. Butterfly. Freestyle.

Up and down, without a rest, except to hear what she was supposed to do next.

Afterwards, the Head Coach told Punksin to go swim with the swim team for “a while, half-hour or so, just to see how she does.”

It was an hour.

After all was said and done, Punksin looked exhausted, but…I noticed that when she was out there, she was holding her own. Could it be?

YES IT DAMN WELL COULD.

She made the swim team

WHOO HOO!

So far she has been to two practices…one the day right after her tryout, and one yesterday. It is longer, more concentrated, more focused, and faster-paced, than her lessons. But…she’s doing well.

She’s not the fastest kid in the group by far. But…and I say this with no bias because when she does poorly I let her know…she has the best technique. She tends to really focus on what her coaches are telling her and she executes very well. I wish she were faster already, of course, but I remind myself that she is only 8, and that she is doing what she is supposed to do: focusing on technique. Speed can come later, when these strokes are ingrained in her muscle memory and she no longer has to pay such close attention to her execution. But when I watch her in the water now, it is a joy. She is not the fastest one down the lane, but she is by far the cleanest. She is not sloppy, she is not rushing, she is not all over the place. She is focused.

I can’t believe how far she has come in just a year. I’m already considering moving her to another Aquatics Club in the area. Because I am THAT kind of mother, I went through the Junior Olympic records and the results from other state-wide meets to see what clubs were popping up with wins and records because THAT club is where I want my kids, and one club in particular kept showing up. I’d never heard of them before and lo and behold – they are RIGHT IN THE NEXT TOWN. And they seem to perform exceptionally well in Womens’ Swimming. As luck would have it, tryouts have just passed, but I may give them a call and check them out and if we have to wait a year, we’ll wait. And while we wait, she’ll be getting stronger and focusing on getting in. Cuz that’s how we ROLL up in here. I have taught my kids: no does not mean no. It means try again.

(This philosophy has come back to HAUNT MY ASS when they ask me for shit like ICE CREAM, CANDY and CAN WE PLEASE GO TO THE PLAYGROUND, but this is the price I pay for instilling persistence in my kids. It’s okay. I will smile smugly as they hoist up trophies in the years to come. And I will tell this story on the ESPN specials.)

Lest you think Pudding is left out…oh no. He’s doing very well now, having overcome the disappointment of not passing his Level 1 class at first. I know, I didn’t write about it, and I was going to, but to be honest, it broke MY heart so much that to go over it again would send me into a tailspin. Suffice it to say that he did not pass Level 1 and he cried rivers. What killed me was, he was not the only kid in the class who didn’t pass. MOST of them didn’t pass. But he was the only one in the class who GAVE a shit. The other kids took their lollipops and marched off happily and all he kept saying was “Did I pass? Did I pass?” in his little high voice, and when the teacher handed me the sheet saying “Please repeat” it was all I could do not to cry because I knew he was going to be upset – all the more so because Punksin had advanced to Level 5 just a few hours before. I just urged him to get his lollipop but he didn’t want it, just kept looking at me and finally I knelt down and smiled at him bravely and said “Squirt, you have to repeat the class just to get a few things better,” and… he didn’t say anything. His head slowly went down and then the eyes welled up and the bottom lip quivered and then he couldn’t hold it in anymore and oh God did he cry. And that fuck of a teacher, no sympathy whatsoever, the ONE kid in the class who GAVE a fuck about passing and she had to see and hear him crying but she just walked away. Later on, she told him he just needed to work on holding up his head, which was NOT even on the list of requirements for passing that particular level, but she only said that much to him because his FATHER made him go and say goodbye to HER – again, the ONLY kid in the class to do so.

Didn’t I tell you I would get worked up about this shit? I mean, I remember his face and my heart just breaks all over again. He’s so small, and he tried his best, and I just felt so bad because I knew it hurt a little extra in light of his big sister’s accomplishment. But he has put it behind him. He’s in Level 1 again, different teacher, thank God, and with typical childlike recovery he is attacking it with gusto. The Tech Guru has taken him into the pool a few times for family swim to practice, and we got to swim this past weekend, and he’s doing GREAT under water now so I will personally SHOOT the teacher if he is told to repeat it again.

So, because I expect BOTH of my children to EXCEL, I noticed that this Aquatics Club I found for Punksin didn’t seem so hot in Mens’ Swimming. Another name kept popping up over and over in that category. I wondered why that was and then… I had a hunch and did some research that bore out my hunch: the club that excels in Womens’ Swimming? Female Head Coach, mainly female coaches. The one that excels in Mens’ Swimming? Male Head Coach, male coaches. They both field Mens’ and Womens’ teams, mind you. Interesting, huh? Technically, it shouldn’t matter, but hell, I don’t care about how it SHOULD be, I care about how it IS. If the male swimmers are doing better because they have a male coach, fine with me, that’s where my son will go, and same for Punksin if that theory seems to be borne out. I am done fighting the system. I am going to work the system and wrench everything out of it for my kids that is humanly possible.

That potential male club is about an hour away from us. If Pudding gets team-ready and is good enough to pursue this as a sport, hell-yeah I’ll drive him there. I don’t give a shit. This wouldn’t be for a few years yet anyhow…or so we think. We’ll see what happens when he’s really swimming. If he’s good enough to compete, he will learn from the best. That is pretty much my motto for my life and definitely where my kids are concerned.

My kids are my business. Not a means to profit…that’s not what I mean at all. But I want them to be self-sufficient, and we live in a society that rewards physical excellence. I want them to be healthy and busy – and sports are a great way to achieve both. I want them to understand that excellence is MANDATORY. When you expect the best from children, they will generally give it to you, as long as they have the right tools to do so. I make it MY business to make sure that my children have whatever they need to succeed and to use their brains and bodies to the best of their abilities. This is why I homeschool. This is why regardless of what they pursue, I find the best facilities for teaching a craft – ballet, gymnastics, swimming, you name it – and THAT is where my children go. MY business is making sure they are excellent in character, mind, spirit, and body. I am molding them – not be mini-me’s, GOD, they can do so much BETTER than me. To be the best THEY can be…the best if they compete, but also the best PEOPLE. I want them to be good, healthy, well-rounded PEOPLE.  Mediocrity is unacceptable not only FROM my children, but especially FOR them.

This is not about being Tiger Mom, or abusive, or making them live my dreams. This is about looking at these two beautiful gifts from God and being in awe of what He gave me.  They are so malleable…how dare I not try to give them the best and in so doing, help their futures? I cannot just leave things to chance and hope they make it. There is no WINGING it here. The best SCHOOLS, the best TUTELAGE, the best FACILITIES, the best PEOPLE , the best EXAMPLES – that is what I want them to have. And there will be times when they run into situations where they have to deal with less-than-best. But I want them to understand how to deal with it gracefully and move on, how to try to get back to BEST. I don’t want them to have 9-to-5 drudgery, with jobs they hate but are held hostage to by a paycheck they need. I want them to enjoy life. I want them to love learning. I want them to enjoy excellent health. I want them to do good out in the world. I want them to be good PEOPLE. And I want them to know that whatever they want to do, they deserve it and they OWE it to themselves to pursue it with dedication and via the best means available. If you believe in God, as I do – not some white dude in the sky looking down either benevolently or with vengeance, but a far more complex goodness – well, to me, you owe it to that Divine Goodness and to YOURSELF to be the best you can be. It’s taken me a long time to see that even for myself. But I realize if I teach my children that, I have to LIVE it.

These are my babies, and as I have told them many many times, no matter how old they get or how tall they grow, they will always always always be my babies. And I hope that whenever the day comes that I leave them here, that I will have equipped  them with the tools they need to make it in this increasingly insane world: an awareness of my deep abiding love through all time, a self-confidence that is humble and recognizes excellence and good in others, a continual pursuit of learning about self and the world, and a quest for excellence in whatever they put their minds or hands to, until the day they die.

I love my Pudding and my Punksin. They drive me insane and crazy and up the wall but…I always remind myself of the day I first held them in my arms. Of their first smiles. Their habits as babies that made me hoot with laughter. And I tell them these stories not only to see their joy in hearing about themselves as babies, but so that I will REMEMBER that love and continue to feel it even as they grow older, into tweens, teens, and eventually, adults. I am so blessed and when I want the best for them it is because I am trying my best to honor that which I see within them. They deserve MY best. If not from me, then from whom? They may not always get the best the world has to offer – and God knows I have had my dark days of despair where I have been less than superb – but I try to give them my best because I am Mommy, and I’m the only one they have. And so so PROUD and HONORED to be that person to them. Not having my own mom has made me ever more mindful of the importance that role has, the emotional attachment, the spiritual link. I don’t ever want to dishonor that. I see excellence in them not just because they are my children, but because they are God’s children.  How far they see or understand that will in great part be determined in how I treat them.

Love them, just love them to death, truly. Mine, theirs and the universe’s. Amen.

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