Personal Journey

Swimming Over the Moon

I’ve decided, now that I have three years swim-parent experience, swimming is a sport about the following: 1. conquering your fears, 2. conquering your flesh, 3. extreme repetition, and 4. pressure. As a child, the extent of my swimming was the drowning preventative offered by the local pool. I had no idea there was a whole world of splashing and angst and sweaty bleachers where parents wring their hands and tap their feet like speed-jacked jazz musicians.

Gabe, Coach Mike, and his buddies.

Setting: the sweaty bleachers. I mention this is Gabe’s third year swimming. “And he’s here?” says a mom. I didn’t tell her he was here last year too. Mom-pride, rein it in.

Getting to the Great Lakes YMCA Zones swim championship was an achievement Gabe coveted in his first year swimming. Like I said. We were new. Zones was the pinnacle, so when the kids were told to make goals, a Griffiths makes them lofty. (Gabe’s dad ran the Boston Marathon just 5 years after his first 5K.)

I watched the coach’s face as she read Gabe’s goal, saw her body language. It laughed to the other coach standing nearby. It said, let’s be reasonable. Gabe didn’t make it to zones his first year swimming, but he did make it his second year. Gabe’s second year he was under a new coach, pictured above. If there is even a speck of work ethic in a swimmer, Mike draws it out. For Christmas Mike has the kids swim 10,000 yards (5+ miles). I’m convinced Gabe would swim the English Channel if Coach Mike told him he could do it.

Swimming is set up so that no matter how fast you are, there’s always someone breathing down your neck. Or more aptly, swiping at your toes. The races, called heats, pit like swimmers against like, and you’re ever-reaching for a better time, a personal best. There are harder and harder cuts to make, exclusive meets for which to qualify. This past weekend we swam the zones meet at Bowling Green State University. The hotel stay meant “team building,” aka romping the halls like a gang of street thugs. Who wouldn’t get heady on a cocktail of zones-glory, camaraderie, relief (the season’s almost over), and independence (parents? what parents?). “It was the best time I’ve ever had,” said Gabe. You’ve heard the expression over the moon? He was, we all were.

Mom-delight, I won’t even bother to rein it in. 🙂

In this book David and Goliath, Malcom Gladwell writes about a dynamic I find true in swimming and in life: courage is acquired. “Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”  This dynamic explains how Blitz-era Londoners handled life so casually. It explains Stonewall Jackson’s near mythical moment when he sat upon his horse while bullets whizzed by him, earning him the name. In both cases the courageous ones had been through brutal experiences and had come out the other side, stronger.

Desirable difficulty is the phrase, and it quantifies the boon that is swimming, and perhaps all athletics, to young people.

Desirable difficulty is this: People who’ve been through hell, find the temperature wasn’t as bad as they’d imagined it would be. In other words, the fear of the future is actually worse than the future itself. Gladwell states, “We are all of us not merely liable to fear, we are also prone to being afraid of being afraid, and the conquering of fear produces exhilaration…”

Exhilaration. Well, if that doesn’t define Gabe and the other zones swimmers…

Gabe about to swim a relay split.

Throughout the season swimming places fearful moments squarely in front of a kid and then the kid must watch the horizon event come closer, closer. He’ll feel the curl of fear in his stomach, perhaps puke it up when he enters the pool. The swimmer must face the fear and step onto the block of his own volition.

Over and over again.

For the 1650 race (that’s a mile, friends), I had the honor of timing. The 11-year-olds who were about to jump in that pool– they were facing fear square on. But I was also there when they touched the wall after the 66th lap, exultant. They swam through the fear and came out the other side. Gladwell seems to describe swimmers when he’s describing surviving Londoners: “…the contrast between the previous apprehension [of swimming the mile] and the present relief [of surviving it] …promotes a self-confidence that is the very father and mother of courage.”

The father and mother of courage: whatever we face that scares us. Makes me want to jump up off my couch and run bull-style into a public speaking engagement… or onto a dance floor. Makes me want to recruit kids by the hundreds into a sport or challenging activity.

…makes me want to smile at the weekend we just finished, to thank Coach Mike and all the RYD coaches for the work ethic they promote, and the swim parents who work tirelessly to provide the celebrations of a year well-spent.

 

Thankful for a great swim team!
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on writing, Personal Journey

July… Don’t Want to Forget

CNW_Winner_200July was NaNoWriMo month for me. I set a goal of 30K words, figuring a thousand a day would stretch me. Boy, did it ever. I consider writing a fun, yet precise and artful enterprise, but in NaNoWriMo the point is to get your story out as fast as possible. In the writing world this is referred to as the vomit draft.

Because so much will be slashed or re-written, it’s not worth it to make every image glorious, every word just so. That comes later. Still– spending a month hurling sub-par exposition onto the screen because I had a word count to make… hurt my lit-snob eyes.

At first it was hard to keep going. Part of what motivates me is the delusion that what I’ve got on the page is excellence. Like exercise or right eating– if breakfast was a donut, might as well hit McDonald’s on the way home because they day is shot. With the vomit draft, I had to leave that thinking behind, to have faith that the sacrifice of my summer mornings would eventually reach the throne room. Confession: I actually love writing and would gladly do it all day long. What I sacrifice are the other practical things I could be, maybe should be doing.

This chart represents my July. How Maureen McHugh got into my head as I slogged through this process, I don’t know. Or else, maybe I’m not that special; I’m just like every other person struggling to write a book. Ok, probably that.

Credit: Maureen McHugh
Credit: Maureen McHugh

While I was practically chanting to myself it’s not a waste to pursue this dream of mine, my kids were doing their summer things too. My job is to get them there. Luke spent Monday through Thursday afternoons downtown. That meant I created my curriculum in the beautiful Carnegie Library or jogged the Hope Memorial Bridge while Luke dragged weighted sleds across Wasmer’s turf field. Have you ever stepped onto a turf field on a summer’s day? It’s like stepping on Mercury. I could see the skyline of Cleveland and feel the breeze off Lake Erie. Luke could feel his thighs melting, I imagine. Two of the pics below are of the aftermath of soccer tryout preparations. Note the dead grass and clever use of lawn accoutrements.

They say chlorine is the breakfast of champions. Gabe had it for breakfast and dinner. He participated in our city’s rec team and in the long course with his club team. The combination made him strong and lean as he’s ever been. Long course was a dish of humility– holy cow, is this pool long; the rec league, a dish of validation– is this kid for real…

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Gabe and Coach Lindsey

Yep. Real as the alarm every morning and the practice every night. …because that’s how winnin is done. – Rocky Balboa

Bob’s summer. He gave it as he often does, to planning a mission trip to South Dakota. Nothing makes Bob happier than helping people stretch themselves in service and charity. The team built a playground and helped construct a house. They led the church services and even fed anyone who came to church. This missions trip is not for the faint of heart. I also posted about it here.

It’s no pleasure trip either. A manager at Aeropostale, Tory gives the same due diligence to cleaning sludge out of a flooded basement in South Dakota as she does to running the store. That was her task for two days. All alone, no complaints. Like Bob, she’s got a feel for managing people and is not above any job that God needs done. I’m here, Lord. Send me. I have a feeling that willingness to get their hands dirty is what makes them effective managers.

As the team wends its way back home, stopping in the badlands, Custer State Park, and Mount Rushmore, they solidify friendships that will last long after the trip is over. Here they are at Indiana Dunes State Park, the last stop on the way home.beach

That was July. Today Luke is at soccer tryouts for St. Ignatius. We’ve always sought the biggest pond for our frogs. Sometimes that big pond was speech and debate, post-secondary college, Model UN, Civil Air Patrol, or the higher athleticism of club sports. I watched club soccer kids getting cut on Tuesday, kids who’d be playing varsity on their city teams. I watched them shake hands with the coaches, hang their heads and walk away from a sport they love.

I think, this pond feels more like Lake Michigan.

It was at this point in my post that I had to leave to pick up Luke from tryouts.  Teams were being finalized as I typed. But August happenings will be another post. 🙂

 

 

Homeschool Life, Personal Journey

G is for Gabe

GGabe. At 11 he’s already a gentleman. I’ve lost him behind a held-open door thinking he’s coming. A Wendy’s double burger with cheese, mustard, pickles, and lettuce will make his day. He could easily stuff down a Wendy’s triple, if he could just dislocate his jaw like a python. Gabe will share his last Swedish fish or a kind word. Whichever you need.

Gabe is my last homeschool student. His stellar work ethic means I don’t have to badger him to do A+ work. Grading his math is like checking inventory. Yep, check, yep, check, yep… and he writes 700 word stories instead of doing his three pages of grammar when he’s feeling rebellious. His handwriting is absolute scratch, but he types faster than most data entry clerks, so it’s only a problem in math. I taught Gabe to play chess and beat him the first two games. Haven’t won one since.

Gabe read every Harry Potter book four times before I sternly told him to stop. When he finds an author he likes, he’ll read every single book published by that author. That was when he loved reading, before Minecraft and gaming stole his heart. I can still hook him with a great book, but I have to assign it as a school subject.

When Gabe was eight he broke his leg on a trampoline. Really a hulking kid broke Gabe’s leg on a trampoline by landing on it. That summer, from his couch prison, Gabe watched Michael Phelps stun the world. The Olympic games have inspired many a future great. Had Gabe not broken his leg, he wouldn’t have stayed still long enough to get inspired.

Because we homeschool, participation in some sport is mandatory. It’s their gym, their socializing, their personal jungle. All our kids are required to play something. Before the trampoline incident, Gabe was an unwilling soccer player. With the break and the long road of rehabilitation, soccer became truly odious. Faced with having to do something, Gabe decided to try his hand at swimming. He loved splashing around in our pool, but he’d never had formal stroke lessons.

Not even a week before Gabe’s first official swim class, I bribed him with an ice cream cone to jump in the pool without holding his nose. Tiger mom, you say. I’m also cheap. That ice cream cone saved me at least $50 in a swim level. It was an investment.

I’ve posted before on Gabe’s meteoric swimming career because I’m plumb amazed by it. He just completed his second year of short course swimming and made the cut for YMCA Great Lakes Zones, placing and scoring points in every event, crushing his seed times and reaping the rewards of his dedication and toil.

Could Gabe become a Michael Phelps? He already is to me.

Reason: Gabe’s work ethic motivates me to work harder at my own little piece of hard, which is usually a 4 mile jog or a sweaty piece of time on the recumbent bike. Gabe was blessed to get excellent coaching and have his limits pushed, yet he takes it a step farther and watches technique videos on Youtube and implements what he learns. During the season, when Gabe had his eye on the goal of making Zones, he ate fish, beans, rice, and cut back on sugar. I didn’t tell him to. Basically, Gabe did everything possible to put himself in a position to achieve his goals, knowing that whether or not he achieved them was ultimately up to God.

Every night Gabe reads his Bible. That’s inspiring too. The Bible says He who is faithful in little is faithful in much (Luke 16:10). Gabe is faithful in little and in much. Let me not forget that, nor how Gabe, at 11 years old, inspires me.

 

Personal Journey

What You Give to Get “Amazing”

Gabe ButterflyGabe. 10 years old. He’s amazing. That’s how the pain and hardship begin, when someone besides mom utters the seemingly innocuous words: You’re amazing. My amazing boy practices swimming with kids a minimum of three years his senior. When he was with kids his age, swimming practice started at 10AM. But his amazing asserted itself, and he was asked to move to the 9AM slot. Then, more amazing, the 8AM slot. Now I shake him awake at 7:15 every weekday of his summer.

On the way to swimming Gabe said, “I’m tired. I hope we don’t swim for distance today. I hope we do the short work.”

As I turned to leave, I heard the coach say, “Ok, we’re going to warm up with a thousand SKIPS… two hundred of this, two hundred of that, two hundred blah blah…” I don’t understand the intricate details of swimming yet because we’re new to it.

Just one year ago I bribed Gabe with an ice cream cone to jump in without holding his nose. Gabe was amazing last year too, when in his first-ever swimming class, they moved him up three levels in two days and recommended we search out a more serious swimming venue. His coach mentioned the Olympics, and Gabe’s eyes glazed over. Anyway, I think he’s swimming distance today. There’s not much rest when you’re amazing.

That got me thinking about being “amazing.”

For starters, there’s no time to worship the trophy case.

It looks like Gabe, shoving down a piece of broccoli at 7:25 AM, so that he listened to Coach’s directive to “eat before swimming.” It looks like the polar plunge for Gabe and the few blue-lipped crazies who show up to swim when it’s freezing cold outside. It looks like pushing harder than he wanted because the hulking guy behind him keeps hitting his feet. It looks like tomorrow he’s going to be afraid to come, he’s going to get a bellyache and want to stay home, but mom’s going to drag his mewling self there either way, so might as well suck in his teary snot and just get it over with. Again. Day in and day out is what amazing looks like. Mom promises it will get easier. Mom is often a liar. When one is amazing, it is not a result or a trophy or a tag, but a string of choices that becomes a groove we fall into automatically, a philosophy we embrace with white knuckles, panting.

This is what we give up in order to get “amazing.”

Give #1. Big frog. IF there is a choice, we always chose to be the small frog in the big pond, rather than vice versa. In this decision we often give up the friends, comfort, and accolades. We put ourselves in the company of people who push us, hard. It usually hurts for a while. Or forever.

Give #2. Sleep. One can’t sleep and be amazing at the same time. Like one can’t be wet and dry at the same time. This is hardest for me. I love sleep. Amazing kids have moms with puffy eyes, who find things to do in the car because going home isn’t worth it.

Give #3. Comfort. See the second Give. But besides the discomfort of exhaustion, we must put ourselves in environments no one else dares to go. Again, friends, normalcy, watching the grass grow… all gone.

Give #4. The Gold. Never spend time standing in front of your trophy case. It’s the fastest way to slip out of God’s blessing and into arrogance or pride. Whatever amazing one was born with, is from God. Whatever toil you’ve thrown at your natural-born-amazing is from God as well. I believe that’s why Paul tells us to “forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead.”

Give #5. The broad road and the friends who travel it. Get comfortable being weird or misunderstood.

So we give, we sacrifice if we want to be amazing. And, like anything coveted, amazing grows wings and flies to higher and higher nests, requiring ever more effort to reach it. What was amazing last week is the status quo today. My job as mom is to counteract that dynamic and  be amazed, always.

All week Gabe has been looking forward to today, Fun Friday at swimming. As I write this (in my car) Gabe is playing water polo with kids twice his size and weight. It looks like a scene from JAWS.

That he can hang with kids that big and not shrink or complain or cling to the side of the pool in wide-eyed paralysis of terror– amazing. Today, anyway.