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Meghan Cox Gurdon: Being on the swim team means crying in your goggles — until you don't

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

"I don't want to go tomorrow."

"No need to think about that now."

"Do I have to go tomorrow?"

"You should go!" came the enthusiastic response.

"But do I have to?"

"Well," said the mother to her miserable, shivering, blue-lipped son, "I think it'll be a lot of fun!"

"I don't like swim practice."

"F-- and V-- will be there, and anyway, by then you'll be all warmed up."

The woman was being deliberately oblique and confusing. She knew from summers with her older children that after the first few grueling weeks of facing a half-hour in the cold water with big, scary teenage coaches, her youngest would not only be comfortable on the swim team SEmD a very gentle, low-level, age-appropriate swim team, it must be said SEmD but probably quite excited about it.

The thing was to stall his objections long enough to get to that point. The phrase people used at her community pool was "keeping it fun," an Orwellian expression that means concealing from the child just how beastly the experience really is of putting one's winter-soft body into cold, chlorinated water and thrashing it around.

Today, her opacity worked.

"F-- will swim with me," the child said, having lost the track of his argument.

"Yes, she will," said his mother, pursuing her victory. "So let's hang up your towel now so it dries and get you into a nice hot bath!"

A few houses down the street, meanwhile, F-- was on the same subject with her own mother.

"My stomach is flipping around, thinking about swim practice," she said.

"Oh, you've got butterflies. That's normal. Don't worry."

"Do I have to go tomorrow?"

"Sure, why not?"

"But what if they make us swim the butterfly?"

"Well, you've got butterflies in your tummy, so that should help, right?"

"But I don't know how to do it!" The poor child was genuinely distraught.

"You don't have to know how, sweetie," her mother said, switching out of Mary Poppins mode into something softer. "The coaches will teach you."

"Yesterday," the girl said solemnly, "I was crying inside my goggles. Nobody could tell, though, because it just looked like water."

And a few houses further along, three children were in protracted negotiations with yet another mother. The eldest of the three had left her first practice in tears, daunted by the churning water and unfamiliar faces, and had not returned. The youngest had sobbed before, during and after his first two practices, overwhelmed by the strangeness of organized swimming. The middle child, a girl, had made it through both sessions in brave form but seemed to feel that she was being disloyal to her siblings. She was now the most vociferous exponent of the notion that none of them should have to go to practice the next day.

"But why do we have to go?"

"Soon the water will be much warmer," their mother said evasively, "and then you'll want to spend the whole day at the pool."

The fact is, she was right. Experience had taught her and innumerable fellow parents at the pool that it really was only a matter of days (or weeks, at the worst) before their reluctant, coughing, weeping proto-swimmers would become confident, enthusiastic, sleek little porpoises.

But oh! The trick is to get through those days -- or weeks.

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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