Every now and then, a strange moment in a parent’s lengthy career knocks you right out of your mini-van into oncoming traffic.
One of those moments happened for me about a month ago when our nine year old came home from a swim practice and told us she was entered to swim the “200 fly” at an upcoming meet.
The “200 fly” for those not swirling around this swim circle, is eight lengths in a 25m pool of butterfly….while racing….without stopping…double arm swings above the water…dolphin kick below the water….torturous….outrageous……not-an-honour-just-to-be-nominated…..200 fly.
My first reaction was, “Ha, good one!” (Disbelief) Then, “That is really going to hurt. I’m so sorry.” (Pain and Guilt). Followed by, “This doesn’t seem fair Ellie. Can you trade with a teammate?” (Anger & Bargaining), “I think I better lie down for a while.” (Depression, Reflection, Loneliness) “Wait, have others your age ever attempted this before? Maybe it is possible!” (Upward Turn) “I guess if you break it down into eight, 25m swims, push off of each wall like it’s a new race and just count to eight…”(Reconstruction & Working Through). “Ellie, maybe you should just try. What’s the worst that can happen?” (Acceptance & Hope).
Ellie had her ear buds in and missed my amazing journey to acceptance.
For some reason, I took this meet entry very seriously as though I was the one being tasked with this horrifying, impossible reality.
I set to work making those rubber bracelets with #200fly to raise awareness of this bizarre, cultural rite of passage, but then I thought my time would be better served setting up a “Go Fund Me” site just in case Ellie’s post-race recovery would require a lengthy stay at a clinic.
The first meeting coaches have with parents, we learn the following; “Parents aren’t supposed to coach the kids.” I likened this conversation to being told to treat our approach to talking to our kids at a swim meet like there was a workplace harassment suit pending. Acceptable comments are as follows; “You look smart in that suit,” or “Looks like rain.”
When spectators see the 200fly on the meet program, after groaning and adjusting uncomfortably in the cement stands, they think one of two things, 1) I have time to run to the washroom during that race, 2) I have time to grab a coffee. What they never think is, “This should be awesome! Eight lengths of butterfly! Has Christmas come early?”
I know I’m not supposed to coach my kids before a race. I know I’m there to pat them on the backs and say, “Great effort today” while handing them money for the concession stand. I know this is the rule in the parent handbook but I couldn’t help myself.
“Ellie, you don’t have to be a hero. If you decide after 2 lengths of butterfly you’ve had enough, just get out of the pool. No one is going to be mad at you.”
Ellie said, “Mom, I would get in trouble if I got out after two lengths.”
“Not from me you wouldn’t. I’m pretty sure there’s a back door somewhere. We’ll run away together.”
Then I reminded her I was told just the other day (after swimming with adults for almost 3 years) that I am NOT allowed to do any, “normal” two-arm butterfly (even with fins on and two lifeguards in rafts on either side of me) and that I am only allowed to do butterfly one-arm-at-a-time until I hear otherwise. A demotion I was surprisingly okay with.
But now my kid is supposed to swim eight lengths without fins or a parachute. It just seemed impossible.
The voice over at the beginning of this movie would be saying, “It was an act of pure courage. A feat no nine year old should ever have to attempt.” Except I quickly realized, Greg and I were really the only ones watching this movie and it was probably going straight to DVD anyway.
Ellie swam all eight lengths of butterfly and did not get disqualified. There was a sweet reaction from the crowd, an “I’m really glad I don’t have to watch anymore of that” combined with “Good for those little kids for splashing around like that for the better part of five minutes” (Grandparents)
Ellie didn’t break any records or change the world or even win her heat.
She showed up. She swam. She did something I thought was unthinkable, impossible.
Kids are amazing.