The kids are finally back in school and we are settling back in to life in Shanghai. Ava is adjusting well to her new school- riding the bus with her big brother and making new friends. Both big kids tried out for the school swim team which turned out to be a somewhat stressful endeavor. At the end of last year, the kids decided it might be fun to be on the team, so I popped by the pool office to meet the coach and get more information. I spoke with some of the other swim moms first to see how they felt about the time commitment and to see how their kids were enjoying the team experience. I got only positive feedback so I happily made my way to the pool and introduced myself. The coach seemed nice enough, but it took me only a few seconds to realize that his idea of swim team and my idea of swim team were two very different things.
In the United States, my kids swam for the neighborhood pool. We had maybe four meets and the coaches were all teenagers. Ok, some of them were “swimmers”. Maybe they swam for their high school teams or they might even be swimming in college, but it wasn’t ever serious business. I don’t think the season even lasted a month and a half. For the very little ones who weren’t yet strong swimmers the coaches would even jump in with them and propel them forward like tiny little missiles, keeping one hand under to help them stay afloat. But our neighborhood pool is only open in the summer and the hours aren’t great so there is a more serious pool where Mark swims. Oh, and Michael Phelps swims there, too. Maybe you’ve heard of him? The greatest Olympic swimmer of all time? Yeah, that guy. My kids have taken swim lessons there and participated in stroke clinic on the weekend, but they don’t swim competitively there. I have spent plenty of time hanging around watching the kids swim. This is why I can tell you firsthand how Michael Phelps actually looks in his bathing suit. It is the kind of sacrifice that mothers sometimes have to make. Mark had been pushing for the kids to start year round competitive swimming or at least for us to change summer pool memberships so that his future Olympians could be on the Meadowbrook summer swim team. He isn’t really one for sports, but when it comes to swimming he is worse than any peewee football dad could ever be. I mean, are we aiming for the Olympics or not?! Can we all just get serious here!?
I had always put my foot down about year round competitive swimming. After all, I was going to be the one running kids to and from practice. And they seemed so little. How could they know that swimming was really their thing? It was a big time commitment for small people. Mark argued that earlier was better and that if they hated it they could decide it wasn’t for them. I was skeptical that he could let it go that easily. He swam year round as a kid, even when he hated it, and I was sure he would expect the same from them.
But the school team seemed like a good idea. It is after school so it requires very little running around. There is even a bus that will bring them home after practice. What could be simpler? Two practices a week, a commitment for all Shanghai meets, and one meet outside of Shanghai each year. So manageable. But the school coach was clearly more in line with Mark’s way of thinking. He needed to know specifics. Where were we from? Baltimore got him interested. Had the kids competed before? I played it cool. I didn’t volunteer the light Roland Park Pool swim schedule. Did they swim year round? Um, sort of? I mentioned Meadowbrook and that they swam there. His face registered instant recognition. Oh, he knew that pool. Michael Phelps’ pool! This was technically true, but I was immediately aware that he now thought the kids were competitive year round swimmers working under the supervision of the coaches and staff that had produced multiple Olympians. Basically we were superstars! We were nearly fish!
The coach demanded to know more. What were their times? Um, their times? I had no idea. No worries, he assured me. Over the summer when they competed I would be able to compare their times with the ones on their website, right? Sure I could! Well, I could if they were going to be swimming on a team, which, they weren’t. He found this troubling, but helpfully suggested that I could time them when I had them in the pool. Yes, yes. During one of our many training sessions I would whip out the old stopwatch! Maybe I would just ask Michael Phelps to do that for me.
The coach could make no promises, because the team was competitive, but he liked that Ava had a late birthday. And Lucas was swimming in PE so he could check out his skills the very next week. They didn’t have spaces for everyone and some kids were going to be disappointed. You see, not everyone makes the team. Yes, this is elementary school. Oh, and they needed to be proficient in all four strokes. They were, right? How was I supposed to answer that? Could he be more specific about “proficient”? I was suddenly concerned that we were biting of more than we could chew.
Over summer vacation we worked very little on swimming so that when we arrived in Shanghai the kids’ preparation was not unlike cramming for college finals twenty minutes before the start of the exam. Mark had them in the pool on the weekends to fast track their flip turns and attempt to give them some more help with swimming butterfly. It was going to be close, but it would have to be good enough.
The first day of tryouts arrived. Lucas was decidedly positive but Ava was terrified. She has had some confidence issues these past few months. Issues that warrant their own post, but suffice it to say, not making the swim team might have been a giant blow to her already weakened self-esteem. She considered not trying out at all. Lucas tried to encourage her by telling her that she needed to believe in herself, but this didn’t calm her nerves and she left for school on tryout day in tears.
But she came home all smiles. She powered through and was so proud of herself for finishing the tryouts without falling apart that she said it didn’t matter if she made the team or not. Of course, I knew it probably did matter just a little bit, but she was so genuinely happy—so visibly excited to have had that little bit of success– that I really believed her. It had been scary but she had done it and she had done her best. Lucas was more concerned, however. The other kids had been better than he had expected. Some kids were trying out for the second time after being rejected last year and he wasn’t so sure his name was going to be there when they posted the team list.
We waited. Ava claimed to have seen a list of 3rd grade swimmers with her name on it posted by the pool. Lucas had no idea what she was talking about. Surely they would make certain the parents knew, right? When would they find out? Lucas thought Wednesday, but he wasn’t sure. We were on pins and needles. Finally, we got emails on Monday.
They both made the team! Michael Phelps is lucky he retired because I think there are a few new kids that just might blow him out of the water. I mean, once they get those flip turns down.
Great descriptive narrative. Felt like I was with you trying to get the kids into the program (?).
Keep up the good work and the peek into Chinese culture. Velly, velly interesting and different. XX. JUDY