My kids drifted into swimming. They started with little summer leagues and my husband wondered if they'd ever learn to rotary breath (that's when they turn their heads to the side). They didn't seem particularly competitive. They'd swim their races then clamor for snacks. They were learning to swim well and I didn't mind those Saturday mornings at the pool.
Then five years ago, they started year-round swim team. At Grace's first indoor meet she had to swim a 200-yard race. She cried. She didn't want to do it. Couldn't possibly do it. I saw the swim coach dash to the end of her lane and lean over as Grace hung on the wall rather than turning around to swim another lap. Afterward, I got her some chocolate and asked what the coach said. "She told me if I got out I couldn't swim any more," Grace said. So she'd finished against her will.
"You were ahead until you stopped," I pointed out."I still finished ahead of that one girl," she replied, her fingers smeared with Snickers bar.
The next summer at the outdoor pool, Grace stomped out of the fence that surrounded the pool.
"Good job, honey. You won," I said.
"Yeah, but did you see that girl? She was trying to get ahead of me!"
That's when it clicked. She wanted to win. Maybe she hadn't realized all that time that those girls were trying to get in front of her, to touch the wall first.
Now she's the star of her high school team, her relay has qualified for a national meet and she's within four-tenths of a second of making a national time all on her own. She gets a slow trickle of letters from college coaches. Mostly small schools, division two or three, but sometimes division one schools.
"If it wasn't about the money, about a scholarship, would you want to swim at college?" I've asked her.
She says yes. She'll have a group to hang with. She'll belong.
But sometimes, when she's mad about a coaching change or when the new girl on the team flirts with the boys too much, she'll call me and say, "That's it! I am finished with swimming!"
I know she doesn't mean it. But would I be okay if she did? I think of all the money we've spent on swim. She quit ballet five years ago and I was afraid she'd really miss it. She didn't. I guess I'm okay with spending money on a sport or activity even if it doesn't lead to big college bucks. I guess I have to be.
Last week, though, a mother from our team told me a story that has me holding my breath when Grace swims. She talked of a boy who was on our team and he got a scholarship for $16,000 a year. When that boy made his national time, they upped it to $24,000 a year. Gulp! That's $8000 per year for swimming a national time. Grace is less than half a second away from potentially pulling in an extra $32,000. Can I pretend that this is no big deal? Should I not mention it because I don't want to put pressure on her? This is HUGE! I don't want to be one of those moms screaming with the raspy voice: "GET HER! CATCH HER!"
I still want to be the mom who calls, "Go Grace! Good job."
That's a lot of money though. And the next time she phones and says, "I've had it. I'm finished" will I swallow and listen, or will I say, "Get your butt back in that pool and earn your college tuition."
Maybe instead I'll just do the cheer my friend Susan taught me this weekend. She reminded me of the Saturday Night Live Spartan cheerleader skit with Will Farrell when they visited a swim meet. Their cheer went like this:
What's coming out of your speedo?
You got troubles, whooo!
You'r blowin' bubbles, whooo!"
And so, I spent the weekend looking away from high school boys in tiny Speedos, trying not to think of the cheer and trying not to expect Grace to earn her college tuition in the swimming pool. It's only swimming, right?
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