So, I’m finally home from the whirlwind weekend of backstrokes and IM’s. All is not finished though as husband has the three younger swimmers down at the other meet. With luck, they should be home by dinner.
Abby swam great this morning after a not-so-great Friday and Saturday. I say this for a reason, because as always, I learned something important during my time with her and her (and my) carpool buddies.
A few background issues first, so that I can get everything into the proper perspective …
The dynamics of a family the size of mine are somewhat complicated. My kids tend toward overachievement, which is great when school is involved, makes me a proud mom, but can present issues in other areas. As they grow older another trend I am seeing, at least with the middle children still trying to find their way, is a certain comfort level with labels. Abby is the third child, a pleaser in all things although she wouldn’t admit that, and finds that if she labels herself, she can have more of an identity that is separate from her other, seemingly “golden” siblings. Lucy is the best writer. Emma is the best singer. Mollie is the best swimmer, and so on. So where does this leave Abby and more specifically, where does this leave Abby with her swimming? (Abby likes to label herself the best student, by the way.) If sister already “owns” the title of best swimmer, how could she possibly compete and find within herself the strength of character to achieve the goals she has laid out?
How could she possibly take such a risk?
It’s so much safer to not take that risk and say, “See? I told you.”
The psyche of swimmer constantly hangs in the balance. Although they swim for and on a team, their times and achievements are individually lost and won. Moods and self-esteem are dependent on seconds or fractions of a second.
How do I get her to separate herself from everyone else and focus solely on her own abilities as compared to her last time, not her sister’s times or the girl in the lane next to her?
Interestingly enough, I think the answer to this lies within her small peer group, which brings me to my major revelation of the weekend and the task that lies ahead of me as a parent, mentor and a mom of swimmers. The task also lies ahead of my friends who bear the responsibility of being the parent of someone Abby considers a best friend and vice versa. It is definitely going to be a group effort on the part of us parents to plant seeds, guide, nudge and nurture the attitudes that will help develop these kids’ characters for the next four years or until they leave us to pursue college and the rest of their lives.
Abby and her friend Tory had gotten up super early Friday morning, driven across town together, swam in the morning, did the afternoon rest thing, met back up at night for finals, and then woke up Saturday to do it all over again. John came Saturday, so now he was a player too. This all after 2 weeks of 4:45am rises every morning for practice together.
Abby and Tory were exhausted, of that I had no doubt. Tory was doing well, but Abby was struggling. Out for most of the spring with a shoulder injury, she’s been fighting to get back even close to some of her best times from last summer. Her response to everything I said and did, everything I offered or praised her for was, “I’m so tired.”
(Code for, “I can’t believe I have to swim this meet when I just swam a meet two weeks ago and can’t you see how tired I am, how sore I am, and don’t you care?”)
Finally, I’d had enough. I got in her face, I asked her what she really wanted because I was tired of walking on the proverbial eggshells, of spending tons of money, of spending tons of time (not just my time, but other people’s time too) on something that I wasn’t convinced her heart was in. She says she wants all these things, but she wasn’t making the effort to even try, she wasn’t doing her exercises, she wasn’t pushing through.
Why were we doing this at all if she was going to live every day in fear of getting better and succeeding?
Why was she settling for mediocrity?
Why was she accepting of sub-standard performance and looking for ways to justify it?
The next I saw her, she was on the block for her 100 back and then again for the 400 free. The ride back to the hotel was a quiet one. Nary a word spoken as she showered and we went back out to meet Tory and John, and Michelle and Maureen for lunch where she laughed and was happy. Tummy full, she crawled in bed and I washed the towels and let her sleep.
The realization came that night between Michelle and me that they will listen to and lean on each other before they will listen to us. Because our kids are so close, as much as they rely on each other to get through the practices, get through the meets, they hold the ultimate power, duty and obligation to build each other up. They also hold the power to allow each other to slip into mediocrity and onto the excuse train. They have the responsibility to themselves and each other to stop and think before answering when someone expresses the desire to skip practice, or cheat during warm up, or otherwise not embrace their full potential.
It is easy to commiserate. It’s much harder to be the one that encourages them to keep going when they feel defeated or tired or sad or sore, ask any mother out there.
It is painful to see them down, see them floundering, see them lost.
So therein lies my responsibility as a parent. I must teach Abby optimism. I must teach her not to fear her potential. I must teach her to look at situations and find the good, find the happy, find the silver lining. There is always, always something good, somewhere, somehow … and if not something good, then at least something positive. I must teach her to spread this positivity with kind words and good character in the face of a friend’s self-pity or self-esteem issues, because Lord knows, she needs someone to be that (sometimes uncomfortable, but always right) rock for her. Sometimes the life raft of optimism is the only thing that keep us afloat when everything else: insecurity, labels, pain, fear, threatens to pull us under.
If I teach her to find the good, she will fill herself and her friends and they will all float to greatness, or at least to their own concept of greatness.