Saturday, December 17, 2011

A New Family Experience

This column appeared in last Monday's local newspaper. The intensity has been turned up a notch or two at practices, or so the boy tells me, to prepare for the meets in the new year. We're not sure what the parents should do to prepare for the upcoming meets, however.

Thanks for stopping by the site. You can view the original article on the newspaper's website here.

Kids now days participate in a wide variety of activities, and our children are no exception. From games to tournaments, recitals to meets, our family has been there. We've sat on bleachers, folding chairs, cushioned seats, and God’s green earth. We've walked for miles, stood for hours, and bought (and sold) more than our share of licorice whips and walking tacos.

But recently we added a new and thoroughly unique experience. A swim meet.

This is our first year with a child on swim team. Now, at six weeks and two meets into the season, we’ve realized that this youth activity is like no other we’ve experienced.

Many youth sports are played at the mercy of the weather. Sun and heat, wind and rain, cold and snow - as long as there’s no thunder, lace ‘em up. Some youth activities occur under controlled conditions. Basketball and volleyball are inside (but some gymnasiums are infamously arctic), hockey is also indoors (oddly, in rinks often warmer than gyms), and dance recitals are held in beautiful theaters (but there’s never enough light to read the program).

Swim meets are the only sports where the conditions are controlled to be miserable. It’s August in the Caribbean minus the beach, sun, palm trees, and pina coladas. Which leaves two things: hot and damp. But since it’s still winter outside, every open door brings an arctic blast. Wearing a tank-top and mukluks would be appropriate. Maybe recommended.

Volunteering at kids’ events comes with certain perks. Keeping the score book at a basketball game earns court-side seats. Assistant coaches are privy to lineup changes and secret strategies. Even the mom who brings the orange slices to the soccer match gets to hang out with the team.

Parents who volunteer as timers at swim meets certainly get great seats: right behind the starting blocks. Swimmers’ starts are meant to be fast, not necessarily pretty, and splashing will occur. Frequently. In your direction. Recording times becomes rather challenging. Pencil, meet wet paper. Swimmers enter the pool on your right, exit the pool on your left, and lean over your shoulder to ask, “What was my time?” If the splash doesn't get you, the swimmers will.

Even casual fans share the timers’ experience. Cheering for swimmers from the first three rows of bleachers is like an afternoon at Sea World, minus the killer whales. Makes the front row on Splash Mountain feel like the Sahara.

All kids’ activities have their own version of whistles, cheers, announcements, horns, starting guns, and “Stee-rike three!”

At first glance the sounds of swim meets might appear similar. Each event begins with a whistle, a “Take your mark,” and a horn. Our son’s last meet had 141 events all occurring in a room constructed entirely of tile, glass, and echoes. Every whistle-istle-istle and “Take your mark-ark-ark” and HONK-onk-onk reverberates long after splashdown. All 141 of them.

But swim meets, in all honesty, aren’t completely unique. Regardless of the activity, the smile of a medal- or ribbon-holding child makes the heat, humidity, and loss of hearing small prices to pay. You’ll be smiling every step of the way back to the car.

Every squishy step.

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