Everyone warned me about swim team: daily practices, marathon meets. The practices, folks seemed to take in stride. But the meets, oh the meets!, the meets garnered descriptors like epic and gruesome.
Our first meet was rough long before the first swimmer took his mark. We had a doctor's appointment in the mid-afternoon. The bad news is that it involved three of us. The good news was that it was the sort of appointment that starts on time and ends on time. But being the day of the swim meet, naturally it didn't end on time. Which means I didn't gas up the van, and I was late picking up Kolbe from computer camp, and we were all late for the meet before we managed to pull out of the driveway.
And then the sky opened up.
For perspective, during the first ten days of June, seven inches of rain came to our previously parched area. I'm fairly sure a solid inch or so fell as I dashed from the van into the community center. As I returned to the van, the rain was coming sideways, and I was drenched to the skin.
The meet was about forty minutes away. It took us a good eighty minutes to get there -- bad rain, a missed turn or two or six, a necessary stop at the gas station, avoiding debris in the road. Given the weather, I called my friend Rachel to see if -- maybe, possibly, dare I say hopefully? -- the meet had been called.
No such luck.
As we pulled into the parking lot an hour late, I noticed some of our swim team families heading for their cars.
"Is it cancelled?" I asked another friend, trying hard to disguise the glee in my voice.
No, turns out they were just opting to wait it out in a dry vehicle.
To see the gear we dis-engorged from the van, you might have thought we intended to spend a few days rather than a few hours at this pool that I'm sure was very nice except that it was hard to get a clear view through the deluge.
I'll say this for swim people: They're nothing if not tenacious. There we sat huddled under umbrellas and towels for thirty minutes, sixty minutes. We'd hear a rumble of thunder, and every rumble brought another twenty minute delay.
Rachel's husband Paul kept joking, "I just can't have my kids swimming under these conditions" in vain hopes that we'd bag the meet and take our soggy selves home.
And then -- surprisingly, amazingly -- they started the races.
And how fun was that!
There is nothing cuter than a bunch of five-year-olds doing "big arms" across a pool. One pint-sized girl has mastered a unique maneuver that's sort of like stroke, stroke, wrap your arm around the rope. She does this with near flawless grace, and I hope her mom gets it on tape.
Too, too cute.
All the veteran moms kept patting me on the back and saying, "This is as bad as it gets." An out-of-town meet, horrible weather, long delays. Around nine o'clock, with the weather still looking ominous, enough races were complete to declare the meet done. We packed up thirty-seven pounds of sodden gear and home we went.
Yesterday was our second meet. I was determined not to repeat the error of our ways.
Three of the kids had afternoon dental appointments. Somehow we have doctor's appointments before every swim meet in June. The good news was that the dentist's office was almost directly across the street from the pool. We got out of the dentist on time (and with no cavities!). We ate an early dinner and killed some time at the McDonald's Playland.
(Don't get me started on the irony of eating McDonald's just before an athletic event designed to promote fitness. We were on a schedule, people!)
And let the record reflect that we were early. We arrived as the coach was pulling in. The only snafu was that John's buddy who rode with us couldn't get his Speedo on. Thankfully, five-year-old boys don't sweat little things like being naked in front of a friend's mother. A tug and a pull and all was well.
And now for the bad news. Here's the deal with swim meets that don't get called for bad weather: They last forever. For-ever!
John had two races early on, and Kolbe had one. We had another obligation last night, so Dave left after Kolbe's 100 meter freestyle. That was at 7:15. Looking at the heat sheet, I figured Kolbe would swim again around 9:30.
Just call me an optimist.
Kolbe's final race was at 10:00. As in 10:00 p.m., as in five hours after we arrived at the pool.
I looked at my friend Stephanie and said, "Wow. This is going long, huh?"
"No," she said in her gentle way, "This is moving along kind of quickly."
I briefly contemplated running the little people home and arranging a ride for Kolbe. I am not a mother who kills the entire family for the sake of every last sporting event every child has. But here's the thing: The older boys are latecomers to this sport. We knew this going in, and we discussed this with them. Tim and Kolbe are fifteen and eleven and swimming with and against guys who started at John's age.
We knew this, but that doesn't mean it's been easy. It isn't easy to do things you don't necessarily do well. It isn't easy to do them in front of a crowd. It isn't easy in a sport that is so individualized. It's your heat, your lane, your time.
As I spied John running around with glow sticks, playing in mud l-o-n-g past his bedtime, as I watched Ainsley looking precious in her flowered nightdress, curled up under a towel on a lounge chair, I knew that the best place for them would be home. But the best place for me was pool-side, cheering loudly as Kolbe swam the 74th of 77 races.
And we were back at the pool at 9:30 this morning eating donuts and playing water polo -- standard morning-after-the-meet fare. One of the moms sorted through last night's results and assembled the ribbons. John came in sixth in his sprint and first in his relay. And I am one proud mom. And Kolbe, who battled a nervous stomach all evening and would have preferred to skip that late night race entirely, well, his relay team came in third.
(Kolbe attempted to explain to me that there in an A Relay and a B Relay and he was on the B Relay and there were only three teams on the B Relay, soooo getting third place meant his team came in dead last).
He may be entirely correct in his assessment.
But this I know: Kolbe pushed himself well out of his comfort zone last night. And I, for one, am declaring victory. And victories like this one, successes that are hard fought and borne of prayer and perseverance and grit, mean far more than the cheap, white ribbon you stuff in a drawer.
A few years back, I watched my niece Hannah, a swim team veteran, swimming in Lake Erie. I have no idea if she's fast or slow, but I do know she's a graceful, competent, beautiful swimmer. When the marathon meets are behind us and the practices are done, this is what I hope my boys will take away. Despite this long, rambling whine, swim team is one of the best things we've taken on in a long time.