Oh, the things you say….

Sarah is a talker.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I use humor in an attempt to be humble in conversation.  Sarah, she doesn’t disguise her feelings in any way.  Not even a weak attempt.

On the way to last weekends Championship Meet (JO’s) she declared she was going to make finals at the meet.  Her best shot was in 100 breast.  She was seeded 33rd and her seed time was a very recent swim.  Knowing she had the propensity to be mouthy on deck I wanted to make sure she kept her ego in check.  I decided to skip tact all together and simply said “Sarah, you are NOT going to make finals, so please watch what you say on deck”.

As the words were coming out of my mouth I wanted to shove them back in.  I immediately apologized and told Sarah that if anyone had the ability to rise to a very big challenge such as that, it was her.  I think I pissed her off.  But I’m pretty used to that.

Sarah swam a beautiful race, dropping 2.45 seconds.  I couldn’t believe it.  I sat watching the heats after hers almost in disbelief.  IF my math was correct she had placed 16th, earning her a spot in the B finals.  I kept hitting refresh refresh refresh with a finger that I could barely steady.  My math was off.  She placed 15th.  About the same time the final results were posted she materialized on deck to tell me her final time (she probably though I was too old to read the electronic score board, which I can see just fine, it is the damn heat sheet that kills me!).   I realized she didn’t know she had made finals.  The look of pure joy on her face was something I won’t ever forget.  She was elated.

She ran home and took a nap before finals.  Dad decided to bring her back to the meet – he wanted to see her swim.  I was a nervous wreck.  When my kids make finals I just hope for them to same time the race.  I would hate for them to make finals on luck.  I was lucky to be armed with meet mobile, Chris at the meet and several friends on hand to text me updates.

Sarah decided to prove herself a worthy competitor.  She dropped another second and moved up to 13th place overall.  Sarah.  Who at the age of 12 was swimming in her first ever Championship meet.  She crushed it.  Sarah, who I had to beg the coaches to take a chance on just a year ago.  Sarah.  Who doesn’t “really” like swimming.

I’m proud of her beyond words.  We don’t have the most conventional relationship.  I spend a lot of time helping her keep her foot out of her very big mouth.  And in the process, tend to swallow my foot.  I would like to say my doubt helped fuel her fire.  It didn’t.  She decided to light her own bonfire.  Watch out world.

sarah at jos

The $27,500 question.

Grace needed a new knee skin for our upcoming championship meet. She wanted an expensive one that also seemed to be out of stock every where we looked. She wisely chose to research the suit and found it on eBay. Starting bid? Half of retail. I was game.

Ironically the auction ended during a swim meet. I got roped into timing and the meet ran later than expected I put in a max bid of $250 and decided to let it ride.

Grace in a moment of weakness convinced me to increase my bid to $275. I happened to be timing the last event of the day – the boys 13 and up 50 free. I snuck in a quick bid.

Of $27.500!

Needless to say I won the suit. Fortunately it didn’t go too much higher than I had hoped to pay. The entire incident shaved a year off my life. I’ll likely obey the rules next time I time and leave my phone behind.

Now the million dollar question. Is it the clothes that make the man?

Practice got cancelled?

One of the things I love the most about our swim club is they never cancel practice.  The club we swam for a few years ago practices in a bubble.  They cancelled practice for thunder, lightening, wind, ice and snow.  I like a routine and this did not work for me.

DC metro got a pretty decent snow last week and practice was cancelled Thursday and Friday.  Unfortunate for my kids – I hate snow.  I’m not talking dislike, I am miserable when it snows.  I get offended when it touches me.

Sarah and Sophie’s coach asked that they go make a snowman and submit a photo.  He was going to have a contest for the best snowman.  I discouraged them from doing it.  An hour in the snow to me represents a load of laundry and a mopping of the entire first floor.  I bribed them with Starbucks to skip it.  In the end, Sarah was persistent and I agreed to let them do it if they were quick.

They came up with this:

Photo: We are this bored.

I don’t know yet if we won.  I somehow suspect they aren’t the only swimmers to do this.  And yes, they are wearing fins.  At least I didn’t have to do laundry.  We need to move somewhere warm.  I want a pool in my backyard – not this…

And I just sat there…

Grace has finally “manned” up and decided to move up to the National Training Group in the spring.  She has spent most of this season on the fence as to where she wanted to go.  She is very lucky to be in a position to decide.  A lot of kids have to spend time in Advanced Seniors before moving up – moving to NTG’s the spring prior to your freshman year in high school is a pretty big deal.  Grace was the only one who thought going to Advanced Seniors was a good idea.

And it turns out she had very good reason for thinking this.

Her current coaches asked to have a meeting with us this past weekend, to discuss the next few weeks, a critical time in her training, the spring Championship meet is just around the corner.  They asked that both mom and dad attend.

I’m a bit of a talker and I like to control conversations.  It was very clear from the get go that this wasn’t going to happen today.  As a matter of fact, the few things I did attempt to add were really pointless.  I could have played on my phone.  Sometimes my husband surprises me.  He has been a swimmer his whole life yet is really hands off with their swimming.  I’m the one who goes to everything.  I thought I knew everything.

What I really know are the logistics of the sport.  Where we need to go, what we need to take and what time we need to be there.  Despite the fact that I go to every meet and every practice, I had no idea Grace was swimming scared.  After the last meet I just thought she was swimming bad.  Turns out she is scared and running away from the very thing that scares her the most.  Success.  She believes it is easier to fail and say she knew it all along than it is to say I’m going to succeed.  And maybe fail.  Between the coaches and dad, they were able to convince her that she needed to get her “head out of her ass” and she needed to believe in herself.  Me?   I just sat there.

I really don’t care that I didn’t have anything productive to add to the meeting.  Or that I really don’t know anything about swimming.  All three of my girls know that they have two parents who support them 100%.  I’m the tough one when it comes to practice.  They go and it isn’t up for debate.  I expect them to work hard and be polite to the coaches.  My husband has the upper hand in pushing them to succeed at their goals.  In the end, they need both.  They also know we love them unconditionally and our expectations never exceed reality.

I’m paying attention though.  I have known from the beginning of the season that Grace was afraid to go into the NTG’s.  I didn’t know why but now I do.  As the logistics coordinator I’m now onto her – she understands now that this is the right group for her – and I’ll do my part, drive her there.

She is so close to making Sectionals in several events.  I think she finally understands it is no longer a matter of IF.  It’s just a WHEN.  And as soon as she makes it, it will be all but a forgotten memory.  All the tears and failed attempts – she will have those sectionals cuts.  And then will want Junior Nationals…I foresee many more meetings.

My husband is an amazing swim dad.  I’m the vocal one and he doesn’t get enough credit.  I can rent him out if you need some good advice, I have some expensive suits to buy.

I’m looking forward to…

As we approach our spring Championship meet things are quieting down a little.  The kids are practicing hard and we haven’t been doing a lot of meets.  My girls have all been pretty worn out and have enjoyed their free time just relaxing at home.  Mother Nature has been on their side and they have enjoyed several days off from school.  They usually get up at the crack of noon on these days.

Our club just participated in the IM Xtreme meet, one that requires that you have a time in all of the events being swam.  Due to some stupid planning, Grace did not get to swim the meet, having never swam the 200 breast.  She was disappointed but ended up having a fun weekend hanging out with friends!  Sophie also did not qualify, she hasn’t swam 100 breast yet.  But she is also only 9!  The 9-10 session on Sunday also happened to be during the Super Bowl.  Who planned that?  I was thrilled we didn’t have to go.

Sarah did exceptional at the meet.  She got best times in all five events and added a few more JO cuts.  I was especially pleased with her 100 fly – she can do fly but is very inconsistent with it.  I filmed her race and my background commentary is awesome.  It’s clear I was blown away.  While it was odd to be at a meet with only one kid it was also nice.  And by that I mean less exhausting.

PVS recently posted their top 20 by age group and event.  To give you some idea how fast PVS is, Grace is “this close” to several sectionals cuts as a 13-14.  And didn’t make the tops 20 in anything.  I was actually a bit shocked.  Her meet in January wasn’t a good one so her times go back to early November.  Hope to see her on there soon.  I was pleasantly surprised though to see that Sophie did make it! She was 18th for 9-10 in 100 fly!

The most exciting thing that has happened recently is that our practice pool just hosted Metros.  Metros is a local high school competition that pits the private schools against the public.  We live in Montgomery County, Maryland – a DC suburb.  Don’t pity the poor public school kids, most of them drive better cars than I do!  To give you some idea how competitive swimming is in our area our high school kids get to compete with the likes of Katie Ledecky.

Our practices were cancelled all weekend due to the meet.  And being the crazy swim family that we are, we went to the pool anyways!  The weekend was filled with some amazing swimming.  The high school Grace will go to next year is not a notoriously good swim team but they won divisionals this year and moved up a division.  It was fun to cheer on our friends.  On Friday night we got to see Katie crush the National Record in the 500 free prelims.  Several meet records were broken and it was a weekend of great swimming.

Swim meets are notoriously boring.  Metros is super exciting.  Kids are allowed on deck and the cheering is what you would expect at a football game.  Katie is a complete class act and signs autographs before and after her races.  The little kids all go to bed at night with stars in their eyes and dreams of big things after meeting her.

The best part of the meet though was on the way home.  Grace said “I’m looking forward to swimming at Metro’s next year”.  Ah yes.  She sees herself swimming next year.  I see her doing real well next year at the meet.  Fingers crossed.


Do you ever really know?

This had been a rough year for Grace.  She is working hard at practice and her times in the pool have for the most part reflected that.

Her head or her heart – or both – has been wandering off path though.

Grace has always struggled with the antisocial nature of swimming. This year has been particularly hard for her.  She doesn’t complain about going to practice or meets but she also isn’t as enthusiastic as she once was.  For the past couple years she has really pushed to also run cross country.  She loves to run and is pretty good at it.  Many of her friends also run.  I haven’t been too keen on the idea, it would force her to miss swim practices and would also have me running in yet another direction.

A few weeks ago she brought it up again.  This time instead of dismissing the idea I actually agreed with her, she should do spring track.  I told her I would sign her up but my only stipulation was that track come first, swimming second.  She wasn’t sure how to react but was happy to agree with my mandate.  I felt as though she wouldn’t really know what it was to be a runner unless she gave it 100%.

This is Grace’s last year in middle school.  It is her last year for age group swimming.  It is her last year of avoiding those early morning practices.  It took me a while but I realized she needs to get running out of her system.  I suppose that is my hope anyways.

The reality is, she needs to see if she is as good at it as she thinks she is.  She needs to know if it really is more fun than swimming.  She needs to know if she loves the open road more than the chlorinated lap lanes.  And she may.  I ask myself all the time “how do we know what is best for Grace”?   I mean, aside from the obvious, just asking her.  But she is 14.  I don’t want her to live her life with regret.  I don’t want her to look back and say she wish she had done things different.  I also don’t want her to say “what if you would have pushed me just a little harder”?  Or “what if you would have let me do it my way”?  When they are younger the balancing act is so much easier.  But Grace is now closer to an adult than she is a child.

We are giving her the opportunity to try something different.  In my gut I know it will work out either way.  Above all I want her to be happy.  She needs to know what she wants to do.  For the present time anyways.

Holy crap.

Last weekend was our championship meet.  In years past, we have always participated in the Tom Dolan Invitational – a meet hosted buy a competing local club.  Often hailed as the fastest kids meet on the east coat.  I’m not sure if that is actually true but if the kids say it enough time then it has meaning.  This year our club decided they were hosting their own meet.  Reasons were varied.  TDI is an oversubscribed meet.  Often hundreds of kids compete in each event.  It is at a great facility (University of Maryland) but traffic getting there and parking can be a nightmare.  It also had become next to impossible for the local kids to make finals.  Kids come from all of the country to break records and make nationals cuts.  On the flip side, it is a fast meet.  Competition is fierce and kids swim well at the meet.

Grace was really disappointed not to be competing at Dolan.  Many of her nemesis in the pool compete at the meet.  She had trained hard and having just turned 14 it is her last opportunity to compete at the meet before hitting the big leagues of open age group swimming.  She coined our meet Fauxland.  She was disappointed our meet was at our home pool.  It is truly an exceptional pool, the best in the county and we are lucky to train there.  Parking and seating are a breeze.   It is considered a fast people and our electronic scoreboard is great.  In other words, it works and shows the swimmers name in a font large enough for parents to read.  The downside?  We swim there.  Daily.  A championship meet there was akin to wearing a formal gown to lunch at the school cafeteria.  Grace had thrown in the towel.  She said she wasn’t wearing her knee skin.  She basically said “hey, I’m bringing my B game”.

She was also annoyed that the meet had bonus cuts.  To attract out of town teams kids were allowed up to 4 swims if they made 3 or fewer cuts.  She felt the meet was being dumbed down.

Me?  I loved the meet.  Sophie had three cuts and Sarah one.  They were each allotted 4 swims.  This meant we did not have to go to Christmas Champs.  AKA the worst meet in the world.  Last year I swore I would never go back (Should I take a shovel) but in the same breath admitted I would.  But I didn’t have to!  Grace was just going to have to suffer – the rest of us were thrilled.  Did I mention the pool is ten minutes from home?

I had a long talk with Grace.  I explained to her that while she might not be excited about the meet, her sisters were.  As were many of her team mates.  I also reminded her that in the coming years she was asking me to make some pretty big sacrifices, both from a time standpoint and financially.  She needed to swim like she cared.  The last few meets she has lost her spark.  To say it was concerning me would be an understatement.

Day 1 Grace swam the first session (not in her knee skin).  She swam really well.  And made finals.  The second session of the meet Sarah swam the one event she qualified for and Sophie two.  Sophie got a best time on her 50 fly but just felt short of finals.  She was a sad but handled it well.  Sarah, who until three weeks ago, has never made a single qualifying time.  She swam 50 breast and decided to show everyone there that she DESERVED to be there.  Because she took off 2 solid seconds and moved her seeding up MANY places.  I was on deck working the meet – my friends on deck were yelling something to me.  I wasn’t quite sure what they said until I moved closer.  And then I realized they were telling me Sarah was 10th and made finals.  I can’t describe the emotions.  I’m still speechless.  Proud is an understatement.  She also came very close to making the JO cut in her 50 fly (which she says is her worst stroke.

Grace and Sarah came back. Grace wore her knee skin.  She was invested.  Sarah was a nervous wreck.  She went straight from the minor leagues to the World Series with one swim.  The both did really well.

Grace and Sarah both swam day 2.  Grace made finals in both her events.  Sarah did not but got her JO cut in 100 breast.  She now had two under her belt.

On day 3 all three girls swam.  Grace once again made finals in both events.  Sarah did not but decided to cut 11 seconds off her 200 breast (from three weeks ago) and she went ahead and got her 3rd JO cut.  Sophie at 9 made finals in 100 fly.

Sophie came close to shutting the meet down at finals.  I honestly thought she was going to throw up in the pool.  She described the kid who swam 200 fly in the heat before her 100 fly as a large, hairy kid who looked 32.  He had a thick 5 o’clock shadow.  Fortunately she didn’t hurl and went on to swim her 100 fly for a best time.

Grace took a few risks, scratching 100 free in finals to focus on her backstroke one evening.  She also rolled the dice on her 200 back and went out too fast.  It resulted in a best time but not the time she wanted.  She brought home 6 best times.  Not too shabby for 6 events.  She was looking for a sectional cut or two and fell short.  But she is “this close” on 4 now.  But she did what I asked.  She swam like she cared.  Even more importantly, she did what her coaches asked.  She didn’t swim scared.

Junior Olympics will be a busy time for us.  I like to complain but I love every moment of this.  Sophie had her first taste of finals at 9.  That is a big deal.  Sarah put her stamp on breaststroke and through her efforts in the pool shouted to anyone listening “hey look at me, I can do this!”.

On the way out I spoke to Grace’s coach.  He said Grace’s back.  I said “her backstroke was awesome”.  He corrected me.  He said GRACE IS BACK!  Grace is back.  Swimming stole her from me again.  I’m pleased beyond words.  Swimming can have her. I now realize her bad attitude about the meet was a fear of failure. As soon as she realized she was doing well it was plain to see she had her head in the game. Her A game.

At the end of it all, I really can’t think of anything other way to describe the weekend other than holy crap.  HOLY CRAP.


It’s my time

My favorite thing about swimming is that it is a sport that time means everything.
My least favorite thing about swimming is that it is a sport that time means everything.

I’m sure many of you are nodding your head in agreement right now.  When that time clock is on your side swimming is the greatest sport ever.  And when it isn’t?  Quite frankly it is hell.  With three kids swimming it is inevitable that one of them isn’t happy with the clock at any given time.

Sarah has spent the last few years in more of a love hate relationship with the sport in general.  She always swam as a secondary sport, soccer being her main sport.  She was forced into early retirement last year around this time due to some ongoing injuries.  We were able to convince her to add a few days to her swimming schedule and bumped her into the next higher group.  Sarah agreed to this – with one caveat – she would return to soccer.

Sarah has really enjoyed swimming this past year.  She has made some great friends and has done extremely well, dropping time like crazy and making tremendous improvements to her stroke.  That being said, she also has talked constantly about her return to the soccer fields.  I have spent the last year feeling like a complete fraud, basically nodding my head in agreement that she would return to soccer as a super star.  I knew better.  Not only has she been out of the sport for a year, she also was injured and in a boot, cast or brace most of the year before.  Competitive soccer isn’t a sport that a two year hiatus is good idea.  I knew that if she returned she would return at the rec level.  I also knew Sarah would not like that.  Sarah is a fierce competitor.

Despite my white lies about soccer I never lied to her about swimming.  I have told her every day for a year that if she continues to work hard she has as much potential as either of her sisters.

I envy the parents whose kids swim and are only motivated by their own times, regardless of how slow they may be.  Having two sisters – one older, one younger – who are making Junior Olympics, Zones and other age group qualifier meets, Sarah is not stupid.  She knows that she has never made a single cut.  Not for lack of effort and has had MORE than her fair share of close calls.  But we all know close doesn’t count.

I have spent many races praying to the swim gods for that child.  Just one.  One perfect race.  I never ask for too much.  The swim gods also never deliver.  I guess they too believe hard work trumps all else.

Last Saturday Sarah swim 100 breast and came with in a second of our Holiday Invitation and the JO time.  Again, close but not quite.  On Sunday she was swimming 50 and 200 breast, two more races I thought she had a shot to make.  Saturday night she had a horrible stomach ache and I knew several kids in her group were plagued with a stomach bug.  I was worried when she went to bed early that Sunday wouldn’t be.

She woke Sunday feeling great.  Chris took her to the meet, I was going to Sophie’s session.  Prepared with the timeline, meet mobile and several friends and coaches on deck all cheering her on I knew she was in good hands.  Come race time I said my final prayer to the swim gods.

Three texts hit my phone at once.  I almost didn’t want to know.  That is a total lie.  I was dying.

Sarah did it.  She made the JO cut in 50 breast.  And not by a tiny bit.  By a full second.  Everything came together for her.  The pride I felt was indescribable.   There are just no words.

I’m grateful that she finally believes me – that if you work hard you will achieve success.  Sarah has many more good swims in her and I believe that by March she will have a full compliment of qualifying times for JO’s.  I absolutely believe that to be true.

On the other hand, I have been carrying around some concern.  How am I going to respond when she wants to make a return to travel soccer?

On the way to swim yesterday she asked me “instead of going back to soccer I was thinking about joining the middle school track team, can I do that and still swim?”

While I am convinced the swim gods hate me perhaps the soccer gods love me.

Last weekend was indeed Sarah’s time.

You knew there would be days like this…

Grace and Sophie both qualified for a NAGs meet hosted by our club.  It is an honor to make the meet, the top 3 swimmer in each event are invited to compete for each club.  The meet is set up by age rather than age group.  Grace’s birthday is after the meet (today to be exact) so she was excited to swim as a 13 year old.  She swam 4 events (the max) along with 2 relays.  Little girl qualified for 100 fly and was quite proud of herself.

Grace had “decided” that her goal was to make sectionals before her 14th birthday.  In other words, last weekend.  The swim gods were not in favor of this idea.  She only had one best time for the weekend – in 50 free.  The rest of her swimmers were pretty average, some even sloppy.

It would be easy to say her head wasn’t in the meet.  That might have been the case.  Or she was too much in her own head to succeed in the meet.  I’m not sure we will ever know but she was fairly disappointed with her swims.

Talking to one of my favorite swim moms ever, we found ourselves asking the same question.  How is it that after all of the hours, days, weeks and even years of hard practice do kids still come and swim like they are 9?  In Grace’s case we certainly don’t blame her coaches.  They have worked with her for 3 straight years on her sloppy turns.  The coach before them still shakes her head in the summer when she sees Grace turn.  She is a far better long course than short course swimmer – further proof that the technical aspect of her turns are doing her in.

There are days when Grace asks herself “should I take up field hockey”.  There are meets where I ask myself “is there a field hockey taxi magnet”.  This was one of those times.

Grace came out of the meet saying she was never swimming backstroke again.  Freestyle has taken over as her lead stroke but backstroke has always been her “thing”.  She has a fantastic fly when she works on it.  Perhaps she is right, perhaps she should put backstroke on the back burner and start to work on her fly.  She was pretty adamant that she was done with backstroke.  I personally was just glad she wasn’t giving up swimming this week.

Practice last night was an endurance practice, all sets were freestyle.  Imagine my surprise when Grace did an hour and a half of slow, precise backstroke.  She has a travel meet this weekend and she is swimming 100 and 200 back.  Perhaps the swim gods will take mercy on my poor child and grant her a sectionals cut.  Nothing wrong with it 4 days after your 14th birthday.

Grace has been called “amazing Grace” in the past and she is nothing short of that.  She is truly a graceful person and to know her is to love her.  She has made me smile every day for the last 14 years and I love her to pieces.  I want the world for her.  And part of that is to learn from days like this.  Days were nothing seems to work.  If you can get up the next day and do it all again you will someday find success. I’m not buying that field hockey magnet just yet.  The sectionals cut is just a matter of time.  Literally.

Happy birthday Grace.  Thank you for making me smile.

birthday dinner

PS…Sophie also swam like she was 9.  Of course she is.  She had an awesome 100 fly.  And got a t-shirt.  That she wore for 48 straight hours.

April Fools

My morning ritual consists of two things.  Lots of coffee and looking at Facebook.  This morning I got excited – I thought we had skipped winter and moved right to April 1st.  Most of my friends were posting photos of cookies they had decorated, pumpkins they had carved or costume dress rehearsals.  I honestly thought I was being punked.  I didn’t know people actually did any of this.

I don’t bake.  So cookie decorating is out.  I don’t buy pumpkins any more.  I’m tired of getting a letter in February from my HOA advising me that I will be fined if I don’t throw away my rotting pumpkins and take down my Christmas lights.  I had to use a blow torch to thaw them a few years ago and vowed right then and there that we would not do outdoor holiday decorating again.  Costume dress rehearsal?  Sarah still needs a long sleeve black shirt and tights.  I’m screwed.

I blame my lack of holiday spirit on being a swim mom.  Last night, just like any other night, I sat at the pool for two hours while my kids practiced.  I wasn’t at home baking or spreading newspaper in preparation for a carving massacre.  I didn’t even feel guilty about it.  Until I woke up this morning.  I tried to quickly come up with something EVEN BETTER than carving pumpkins.  I thought about making orange scrambled eggs but we don’t have food coloring.  What to do, what to do..

Grace isn’t going trick or treating this year.  She is hanging out with friends watching movies.  I’ll drop her and several friends off and give her some cash so they can order a pizza.  Sarah is going to a friends house and trick or treating with them and having a sleepover.  By 7:30 AM I have officially been dismissed by 2 of my 3.

Sophie wakes up just as the other two are leaving.  She is in 4th grade this year and her school party is at 1:30.  She hadn’t said too much about it but as she woke up she asked if I would come to her party!  I won’t lie.  I loathe school parties.  But I was thrilled to be asked.  I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  Today is her best friends birthday.  Sophie has been invited to her house for pizza and trick or treating.  Sophie asked what time she was supposed to be there.  And then said “you are coming right?”  Yes Sophie, I’m all yours.

Admittedly, I am not super mom.  I don’t do crafts.  Or bake.  But I am there for the kids when they need me.  I also will let them go when they want to.  My feelings aren’t hurt that Grace and Sarah  are off doing their own thing.   Maybe I’ll get a photo of them tonight that I can post on facebook.  Maybe I won’t.

I did talk Teddie into trying on his costume for me.  That must count for something.  Happy Halloween.

teddie cat