Friday, July 20, 2012

From Scratch

There are a few times in your life – especially if you’re a parent – when you hear another person say something and you think to yourself, ‘I’m going to work that in. That resonates with me and I couldn’t have said it better, so I’m going to say that, again.”

A few of my favorites:

Don’t tell your brother what to do. I’m the mom; I’ll do it.
You don’t have to be friends; but you do have to be friendly.
6 is awesome.
I made you from scratch.

It’s that last one that sticks in my heart and won’t let go of me.

A Monday or two ago, in the middle of a much-prayed-for Midwestern monsoon, our little suburban swim team held its preliminary swim meet. My little swim champ was excited and ready with hopes to cut an attainable all-star time in his best event, the breaststroke.

Sometimes hopes become hurdles in the great race of life and we stumble. So brace yourself because this is simply a story of a 7-year-old’s life lesson, hard-won through loss.

We muddled through the rain. Mason the spectator shivered in a puddle until a good friend could rescue him. Cooper and I were just left to wait out the lightning delays and rain soaked races. During backstroke it was coming down hard enough that Cooper was not only wet behind the ears but also choking on raindrops.

Then an interminable wait for lightning to clear.

Finally his favorite event was up. He was excited. He was stoked. He was adequately prepared. He was ranked and seeded to qualify for championships. The beep sounded, he dove in, and his goggles popped off. Could have been a bad dive, an unusually wet face, or just bad luck. He took a second to pull his goggles down to his neck and swam the rest of the race without. But the dreaded orange wristband indicating a DQ was in the air. I knew it was on Coop and I was one of three timers on his lane. I would not only witness but also participate in delivering some bad news.

Tears. More tears. Then the sobbing words that almost made me vomit. “I’m not awesome.”

Let’s take a breather here, because the rest of the meet isn’t that interesting. When a parent agrees to team sports I think most of us believe we are giving our kid-athletes something to be proud of, to give added confidence, to boost self-worth. But here I was faced with the dark shark eyes of a sweet face that had lost all confidence. I felt the weight of my role in that.

The exchange at championships.
Hot tears on a cold day are not to be stopped or stifled or shushed. They are to be waited out. You don’t say, “Suck it up.” You don’t say, “It’s OK.” You don’t say, “Move on.” You just pick up the toweled bundle of boy that you made from scratch and you cry, too.

In this year when every kid who has ever snapped on a swim cap is thinking they are the next Phelps; I am thinking of every parent who made those Olympians from scratch. I know two or three, personally. I remember them early in their athlete’s career. Unabashedly cheering at every win, and every stumble. And in one particular mother’s case never bragging a stat. No matter how fast the time, the record, or the win. She always bragged about the smile.

So here let me brag about the tear-streaked cheeks that peered out over 50 meters following a disappointment. I will brag about the tiny toes that snuck up to the edge of the diving blocks. I will brag about the quivering, shivering, spindly arms that moved into position with, “Swimmers take your mark.” I will brag about the smile on the face of a very sad but resigned boy when he woke up the next morning with nowhere to go.

Days without practice only lasted 24 hours. By that night, the coach invited Coop to championships as part of the relay, where his team went on to win 7th. Where I heeded not the finish, but the smile of a swimmer pulling through his favorite stroke.

On his day off he asked to GO SWIMMING with brother.


Claudia said...

Just tell him that his cousin Claire still calls him " Super", and we think he is too.

Glenda said...

He's a Winner through and through.

emma nelson said...

Cooper, you are awesome! you ARE awesome! You have an awesome Mom..that story ought to be published.

laurel said...

He is such an awesome boy!