November 25th, 2012
So there was OTHER shitty stuff about yesterday that I didn’t get into.
Yesterday was Punksin’s first OUTSIDE meet.
I’m trying to think of ways in which it could have been worse.
I’ll start with the good news, though, because there is some. The good news is, she’s over it. The good news is, her breaststroke is KILLER. The good news is, she learned to put shit in perspective. The good news is, yesterday was a GREAT opportunity for her to see how “you are only racing against yourself” comes into play.
So, yesterday, we get to the meet. Which reminds me, the OTHER good news is that, unlike most meets, we did not have to be there until 12:30. For someone who usually grunts and speaks into mono-syllables until at LEAST 11:00 a.m., this was fabulous news. Punksin and her dad are morning people. Pudding and I…are NOT.
So that was good.
Punksin had 3 events she was entered in: 100-yd freestyle, 50-yd backstroke, 50-yd breaststroke.
Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck. I know my child is resilient and yet I cannot HELP but feel for her at these things. It’s not that I want her to win, win, win. I just want her to perform well enough to feel good about herself.
So the first event comes, the freestyle. And I notice that her friends on the team are in heats 4 & 5, and Punksin is in heat…12? Hmmm…I thought it was odd but didn’t realize what it meant.
Until it came time for her to swim.
Her coach went and talked to her and then came hurrying up to me. “Is she okay? Ready to go?” I asked with a smile, thinking she’d just offered her some words of encouragement.
“Yes, she’s ready, but…I just had to let her know there was a mistake,” she replied.
What the fuck does she mean, a MISTAKE? That was what my BRAIN said, but my mouth did some editing, thank God. “A…mistake?”
“Yes. I put her time down for this event as 2:06. For some reason whoever put in the info put her down for 1:06. So…she’s going to be swimming against girls a lot faster than she is. She’s okay, though, she knows what happened,” she said quickly, trying to erase the look of horror on my face.
I mean, do you realize what happened? They basically shaved a WHOLE FUCKING MINUTE off her time, putting her in the pool with girls that actually SWAM at that pace. And they were HUGE, or so they looked to me. Only later when I looked at the heat did I realize that they were all 11 years old, and my little 8-year old, who normally seems so tall to me, suddenly looked dwarfed and vulnerable.
The buzzer went off and…in she dove.
Punksin’s freestyle is slow enough as it is, because she is uber-focused on technique, which her coach and I have agreed we actually need to get her out of. I mean, she still has much to learn, and it’s great that she wants to get it down perfectly. But she often sacrifices speed because she over-concentrates on technique. She’s so busy THINKING about what she is doing that she slows herself down from DOING it. She has to learn to trust her body to do what she has trained it to do.
Now, in the pool with 11-year olds who all of a sudden looked like grown women next to my little girl, her pace seemed almost glacial. I watched her, my heartache for her overcome by pride as I watched her head down the lane. There was no way she could catch these girls and yet…out she went.
The other girls hit the wall and were back down the lane before Punksin even reached the end of the pool.
Down and back they had to go, twice, for the 100-yard event. The other girls made their final turn while Punksin was still in her first lap. Then in what felt like the blink of an eye, they were at the finish, waiting, unable to exit the pool until the final swimmer came in. And there she was, my girl, still in her last lap, not even having done her flip turn yet, while the rest of the field was finished.
But on she went, steadily, determined, and finally she reached the far wall, flipped, and then…there were a few claps, a few shouts of encouragement, and…it wasn’t me. It wasn’t her dad. It was other parents, other coaches, other people who maybe understood what had happened, some who maybe didn’t, but for whatever reason were encouraging my daughter to make her way to the finish line no matter how long it took. The clock for her lane was still running, long after the others had stopped, now she was swimming alone, and yet…she was not alone. We were all in there with her, urging her on, pushing her as much as we could without physically getting in the pool.
That brought tears to my eyes. And I was grateful, all the more so when she told me in the car, today, that she heard those cheers and claps and shouts and it made her feel good to know that people were rooting for her. I didn’t think she realized, being focused and being underwater at times, but…she knew. She heard, and she knew it was for her, and…it helped her, just as we all hoped it would.
I watched several other races yesterday, and in more than a few there was one kid lagging behind the others, clearly outpaced, not keeping up. And those were the kids we all cheered for the loudest, because at that point, as I explained to Punksin today, it’s not about athletic prowess, it’s not about skill, it’s about…heart. It’s about being out there, knowing you are behind, and still having the courage to finish and finish STRONG. It’s about not giving up. And you don’t want ANY kid to lose that. So hearing Punksin tell me today that she heard it and felt it and used it, that made me feel wonderful, not just for her, but for all the other kids out there that we cheered for and that I hope got SOMETHING out of knowing that they were winners in an entirely different and ultimately more life-serving way.
So there was that. And it sucked ass that she had to swim in the wrong heat, but it gave us the perfect chance to concentrate on HER time. There was no way she was going to beat those girls, but she could improve her own time. Which she did.
The second race, the backstroke, she seemed a little off. I think it was nerves. Her stroke wasn’t clean, and there were several times when she bumped up on the lane lines or the wall, which meant she was moving sideways instead of straight down the lane as she’s supposed to. She wasn’t WAY outpaced, she kept up, but still, SOMEONE has to come in last, and in that race, unfortunately, Punksin did.
Then we get to the 3rd race. The 50-yard breaststroke.
Her breaststroke has improved drastically in the last 2 months. When she first began swimming with this team, she could do it, but there was no glide, so she was coming up basically every 6 inches or so, it seemed like. There was no movement and she was wearing herself out with all the up and down.
But something clicked recently, I love to see when that happens, when something just CLICKS into place, and she has been MOVING in the water. I mean MOVING.
So yesterday, she lines up for the heat. She was in lane 6, the lane closest to where I stood on the side, watching. I expected nothing; all I hoped for was that she would not be last. Because I know that as much as we are supposed to be focused on improving time, when you are 8 years old, you don’t want to be last all the time, no matter HOW many goddamn seconds you shave off of your time. My daughter is smart, and she gets the importance of bringing her time down. But still…she is 8 years old. She is focused and determined. But…she’s also 8 years old.
The buzzer went off, and in she dove.
Down the lane, up, down, up, down, I saw her head bobbing, bobbing, bobbing.
She hit the wall first. Turned. Headed back down the lane.
I saw her coming towards me. This stroke, and the butterfly, always look so predatory to me for some reason, especially when the swimmers are coming towards you. Perhaps it’s the up and down motion, and the way you see their faces emerging out of the water, only to submerge again and rise up once more, closer and closer, sort of like…Jaws. It is beautiful.
And there she was, coming towards me.
And she was in front.
The other swimmers were close. Could she hold them off, I wondered, or had she gone out too quickly only to tire at the end?
She held, she held, she held…
And reached the wall first.
She looked at the other lanes. Realized no one else had arrived at the wall yet.
Realized what that meant.
Looked at me and broke out in a HUGE grin.
I was SO DAMN EXCITED AND HAPPY for her. She would not always be first, but this win would give her something to hold onto, would give her some hope. Would make her FEEL good.
She came out of the pool and immediately went to her coach to discuss her performance, win or lose, you’re supposed to go to the coach, see what you did right, what you did wrong, evaluate immediately so you can get better. I waited for her, ready to hug her and congratulate her on an AWESOME swim.
Then she was coming to me and…she was CRYING?
“What happened?” I asked, wrapping her in my arms.
“I got disqualified,” she sobbed, burying her face in my chest.
“Why? What happened? What was wrong?”
“They said my feet were wrong,” she mumbled in between sobs.
In further discussion with her coach today, I learned that her feet were supposed to be turned outward at a 45-degree angle as she kicked. Instead, only ONE foot was turned out, with the other foot facing the same direction, resulting in more of a scissor kick.
The irony is, her kick probably slowed her DOWN. Had she kicked properly, she probably would have won by a larger margin.
The other irony was that had she been swimming in an inner lane, her kick could very well have gone unnoticed; many small infractions (and by small I mean visually, not unimportant) go unnoticed in the inner lanes. But those outer lanes, where the official walks alongside with a much clearer view? Those lanes can get DQ’ed quite quickly.
Of course, some small part of me wishes she HAD been in an inner lane, that she could just get the win under her belt already for her own confidence. But rules are rules; protocol is protocol. And I don’t want to depend on poor vision for her wins, nor do I want to take wins away from anyone else who deserves them.
But boy did that sting.
“I wanted to win so badly,” she said, her voice still muffled as she cried into my chest.
“I know, baby. It’s okay. You just made a small mistake. What’s good is knowing that you didn’t come in first BECAUSE of that mistake; it’s not as though you gave yourself an unfair advantage with your kick. You didn’t get disqualified because you won unfairly. You got disqualified because the breaststroke just…has to be done a certain way, is all. And the way you were doing it probably slowed you down a little. So we know that the capacity for the win is still there, in you, and we’re going to fix that kick and get it right,” I told her, rubbing her back through the towel draped over her.
“I know, but…but I wanted to give you my medal if I won. I wanted to give it you for your birthday.”
And to that, I could at first say nothing, because my own voice would have broken.
How wonderful our children are, aren’t they? I know she wanted to win for herself, and she SHOULD want to. But to know that she felt extra disappointment because she wanted to give me the medal just…I don’t know. I don’t know how to describe the bittersweetness, the poignancy, of the feelings that my children inspire. How I can feel proud and afraid and protective and encouraging all at the same time. How I want them to be strong and tough and at the same time I want to shield them from the very experiences that will make them so. How I want them to accomplish so much but hate the disappointments they will inevitably face on the way to success. How I want them to be sweet and loving and yet can still rue the days when those very qualities are abused or disrespected by other people. How I love watching them grow and am so incredibly proud of each milestone they reach and pass, and yet wish I could stop the ever quickening pace on the road to adulthood. How I love that she wanted to give me that medal and at the same time wish that that very desire hadn’t made her loss more searing.
Oh, the things that run through my heart and my mind with my children. Oh, the things…
We learned today at practice that when you’re just starting out, and when you’re 8 years old, DQs are common. Because although you’re young and your technique is not yet refined and perfected, the judges don’t cut you any slack. The only way to reach that stage of perfection is to have it expected of you from day one, right? I can respect that, I even agree with it. I just wish we’d KNOWN ahead of time that DQ’s are given out so freely and accumulated almost like badges of honor. It would have made this first one a little less painful, I think, if we’d known that she was in fine company and had nothing to be ashamed of for being singled out, that it happens all the time, at every meet.
Sigh. So, this may not be her last DQ. But as the first one, coming at the cost of a 1st place win, coming when we didn’t yet know how common they are, and, for Punksin, coming on my birthday and costing her the gift she most wanted to give, it was a really painful first one.
But…I guess the other good news is…we’ve passed that hump now. We know now that DQs are common. We know how she got it, and in practice today she made the change she needed and voila, it was corrected. And…the next DQ will NOT be on my fucking birthday, making her feel worse and making me feel like my whole birthday was a total jinx to one of the two people I love the most in this whole world.
She has another meet next weekend.
I am trying to stay calm. I am not going to tell her its in the bag. The Tech Guru says something along these lines to ME at every meet and I swear it drives me batshit because I feel like HE’S jinxing it, like he’s not taking into account that no matter WHAT the fuck she does at practice, the actual race is a whole other story, because she’s not a seasoned athlete accustomed to the big time, but an 8-year old girl who doesn’t yet have nerves of steel or loads of experience competing, furthermore winning. It will all come. I have faith. But I also know that even the best athletes start…somewhere. And it’s very rarely in first place at the finish line from day one.
Next week, I’ll hope for the best. I’ll hope she is in heats with girls she actually has a fighting chance against. I’ll hope her backstroke becomes more even. And I’ll hope that all the aspects of her breaststroke come together to give her, if not her first win, at least, a non-last place performance that doesn’t get DQ’ed. Because she’s 8 years old, you know? 4th, 3rd, for now, I’ll take those, even, because even those, like our cheers of support, will lift her up a little.
Oh, my precious girl. I love seeing you grow and DO and ACHIEVE, and yet…and yet, I wish you were my chunky baby still, with heartache and disappointment still lightyears away.