Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Breast, Back and Free

This year, we joined the local Elk's Lodge. Like many of its members, we did it for one reason: the pool. Prior to this summer, our kids were basic swimmers at best. We joined the YWCA this past winter in order for Jay to teach them how to at least tread water and swim across the pool using any means necessary. Clearly, Jay was not an expert swimming instructor, but he was making attempts to teach our children how not to drown. It has been an intense parenting goal for Jay that our children become strong swimmers, with me sort of lagging along behind in support.

It is no surprise then, to know that when Jay heard about a swim team for the kids at the Elk's, he insisted that our children join. It wasn't that I was opposed, it was that I knew it meant more work and shuttling than I had planned on this summer. Ethan wasn't particularly enthralled with the idea either and I knew that meant much encouragement and cajoling on my part. And so, swim practice began. Every. Day. Sometimes twice a day. Swim meets happen once or twice a week. Meets last at least 4 hours, longer if you count in the warm-up time. For the novice swimmer and parent, these meets are a bit overwhelming, chaotic, exciting and tiring. Overall, it is a hefty time commitment for what are to the be the "lazy days" of summer. I was completely not prepared for this entire venture, but probably not in a way you think. I was completely unprepared for how swimming has changed our lives.

For Sadie, my little crazy wild cat, swimming has become "her thing." Never have I seen her so completely delighted with any activity she has tried. And, we have tried quite a few. She always becomes bored before the season ends, particularly at practices. Not with swimming. At the first meet, Sadie realized that someone was chosen to swim the American flag across the pool while the national anthem was played. Setting her sights on this lofty goal, she set to work at the very next practice. She was very determined and after showing her newly, self-instructed "flag holding while swimming" skills to her coach, Laura, she was allowed to bear the flag at the next meet. She was thrilled.

At times (well, a lot of the time) I have difficulty embracing the confidence, the assertiveness and the zaniness that is Sadie. It was during this flag ordeal that I realized that she is who God created her to be, for a purpose. I doubt her purpose is small in nature because that just doesn't seem to fit her very large personality. Therefore, I realize that I need to sit back and just watch it happen instead of worrying over the details and constantly trying to restrain her.

My best guess as to why swimming appeals to Sadie is that it combines a lot of physical activity, competition and socializing - all essential components to her happiness. After the last meet, I asked her, very casually, if she wanted to continue swimming. Her response, "I want to swim, forever and ever and ever." Therefore, I now find myself inquiring about year-round swimming programs.

For Ethan swimming has not come as easily. His first foray on the swim team comes at a time when most kids have been swimming a couple of years. At the 9-10 age level, you are required, for the first time, to swim the lane down and back, not just down once as in the 8 and under. He barely knew how to do free style, let alone any other strokes. Ethan is also my child who is fiercely afraid of how he looks to others, afraid if someone will laugh at him and or of failing. He resisted the entire idea of the swim team and after the first practice declared that it was too tough. He asked if he could quit. I said no. After the first meet, when he came in last place in the last heat, he was nearly in tears and begged me to take him home. I said no. That was a tough one, but I held firm. During his next event, my heart was in my stomach as he battled out of last place. Again, he came to me trying to be brave though tears welled in his eyes. I mustered every single "word of encouragement" and "rising to the challenge" verbiage I could during the ride home. It was a tough night to be a parent. Later that week, he came down with sickness and then went to Weeblo/scout camp leading him to miss a meet and several practices. Once he returned, he asked to just practice with the team and not have to do the meets. I said no, again. I did opt to invest in a couple of private lessons with one of the coaches in hopes of improving his strokes a tad, thus building his confidence for the next meet.

And so, the stage was set for our meet this past Tuesday. I told him all he had to do was improve on his time. Actually, that has been our mantra for this entire season. I ask, "Who are you swimming against?" The answer is "me." Or, "What are you swimming for?" The answer is, "To improve my time." To add to the incentive, I offered up the prize of beef jerky for any improved time. And here is where I must give kudos to his coach, Taylor. He heard of this little prize and gave the challenge to Ethan...shave off 2 seconds of his time and Taylor would get him the beef jerky. The time came. Ethan dove in. He gave it his all while Taylor cheered for him down the entire lane. He touched the wall...and had shaved 8 seconds off his time. He was beaming. I was elated. Several of the coaches, including Taylor, were there to pat him on the back. Did he win the race? No, not by a long shot. But, what I saw in Ethan's eyes and in his heart was worth more than that. He didn't care that he hadn't won the race. He was thrilled knowing he had accomplished more than he thought capable. He had learned a fantastic life lesson about perseverance and commitment. And, as we left the meet, Ethan said to me, "Actually, I can't wait to do it again." Yes, I had tears.

It would seem a bit strange that an activity that is geared toward my children would have an impact on me, personally. However, if you have read my blog for any length of time, you know I have been in a bit of a funk. Actually, a 2-year vastly fluctuating, emotional funk. My pleasure in socializing pretty much vanished after Ansley died. Grief, sorrow and bit too much introspection led me to isolate myself. Unfortunately, a little isolation snowballs into more isolation. Before you know it, you are nearly a hermit. Thrust into the swim crowd on a daily basis has reminded me how enjoyable other people can be. It is amazing, really, that I am sad the season is nearly over.

Not to leave Lily out of the mix...she was able to join the Jr. Elk's team. She has evolved from not wanting to get her head wet to diving into the water and swimming a crude little freestyle for about 15 yards. She loves going to the pool and I can see how this has improved her social skills just in time for kindergarten.

Finally, this post about the swim team would not be complete without mention of the young adults that are employed as the swim coaches. They have restored my faith in this next generation. Sure, I know I am not privy to all the behind the scenes. However, I do see dedication, organization, leadership, instruction, compassion, concern and a genuine desire for these young swimmers to succeed. One example is in Ethan's coach, Taylor, who had me write down his mobile number. Taylor will be out of town during the next swim meet and he asked me to have Ethan call him right before his free-style event. Ethan just beamed upon hearing the request. The head coach, Laura, is just beyond her years in her leadership, organizational skills and enthusiasm. And, the other coaches, Chris and Brooke among others, call my children by name, ask about them, request hugs, dole out compliments and encouragement. I doubt they understand, fully, what positive influences they have been on the Dumoulin clan.

In regards to next summer...well, I'll just quote Ethan, "Actually, I can't wait to do it again."


Laura said...

Your blog entry was so special and warmed my heart. You and your family have meant so much to me this summer and for that I can only say thank you! I look up to you as a strong christian woman that I aspire to be like one day... and aside from all of that, I think I'm going to start a blog.

Thanks for sharing your heart

robin s said...

Loved it!!! Pictures are fabulous!!!!