Let’s all make a perfect circle

Tomorrow is the first day of school. My kids would not have a single school supply if it weren’t for my mother. She went to Wal-mart and bought all of the necessities. Me? I am in denial.

I hate the first day of school. It means summer is over. I don’t need a calendar to tell me when fall starts. The seasons of my discontent start the first day of school. The problem I have with the end of summer is two fold.

For starters I hate winter, cold weather, snow, hot chocolate and mittens. I find no creature comforts in winter. I enjoy the sun and the joys of summer. I am solar powered.

I also miss my kids. Not in the wringing of my hands, drowning my sorrows in a box of tissues sense but in a crap I have to make my own fun sort of sadness. Indoors of course because of the pending cold weather that I loathe.

I have friends. Wonderful friends. We eat out, shop and exercise during the day. I work, clean, run errands and do lots of laundry. Don’t feel sorry for me I have a charmed life. But first day of school I start a mental countdown calendar until summer starts again.

There is no way to avoid it. Off they go tomorrow and with them goes summer. And so it goes.

Their backpacks are packed. Although Sarah doesn’t have a drafting compass in hers. A quick trip to Target today left us empty handed. Sarah had hopes that we would drive all over Maryland today looking for the lone remaining compass. The torrential downpour aided me in my refusal. She is certain she will be expelled. I told her I would lay my life on the line that she won’t need to make a perfect circle the first day of school. She is convinced she will miss me when I am gone.

I will miss them while they are gone. They grow up and I don’t.

The stupidest law ever.

When we travel I always stay at hotels with a big ole breakfast buffet. I like my kids to fill up. I am talking Thanksgiving kind of stuffed. I can throw them in the car and drive about an hour past when they start complaining that the are hungry. Like three-ish. Me, I like the coffee.

We stayed at a hotel in Wilson, NC. We went down for breakfast and were informed that North Carolina State law states that kids have to be 16 to serve themselves hot food and 12 to serve cold.

I first tried to convince the lady that Grace was 18 and she was their mom but that didn’t work. I spent the next hour making waffles, serving eggs, toasting bagels and pouring milk.

I am NOT a morning person and this annoyed the hell out of me. I started getting snarky and making smart ass comments. For instance, the eggs weren’t technically hot so I felt Grace should be able to serve them. I also pointed out that there was a microwave in our room and that Sarah had made popcorn. Never mind that Grace had spent three nights in a hotel room without an adult. Grace told me to shut up so I did.

Seriously, this is the dumbest freaking law I have heard of. My kids all cook at home on a regular basis. I know some dumb ass sued someone and as a result this new law ensued. What next, will I have to cut their food to make sure they don’t choke? Maybe I should chew it first and feed it to them like a baby bird. Should they be allowed to bathe without my supervision? Why does the state think I am more incapable of deciding what my kids can do in a hotel than I am at my home?

I did try and research that law and came up empty handed. Perhaps she made it up entirely so kids wouldn’t make a mess. If she did she a genius. Except that she had posted this sign. I am pretty sure the correct term is burst.


I want to be a Gypsy

After a two-week swim meet turned vacation that involved 6 states and 3,000 miles you would think I would be happy to be home.  I’m not.

When the kids were younger I despised road trips.  When Sophie (8) was just a baby, I would make the trek from Ohio to North Carolina alone – several times a year.  Sarah who was barely 2 was prone to car sickness.  We had this “spot” in the mountains of Virginia where she would projectile vomit.  I pulled over at the exact same stop in the mountains every single trip (both directions) to clean up.  I did get smart after the first few incidents and I moved her car seat to the passenger side.  One, two or all three were always screaming at some point in the trip.  The minivan was appointed with the required DVD player and we would watch the same movies over and over again hoping for any amount of peace and quiet.  I bought the entire stock of pacifiers from Target for Sophie and would just keep handing them back as she would lose them.  By the time we arrived at our destination the entire car floor was covered in wayward pacifiers and mashed up food particles.  I would chug wine immediately upon arrival.  I swore that I hated road trips and always promised “this would be my last”.

Fast forward 8 years.  The girls either sleep, read or listen to music in the car.  Oh, and they keep me company.  With interesting conversation.  Our life is hectic and busy and we really don’t spend as much time as we should just being in each others company.   We laughed, played trivia and belted out Taylor Swift songs.  I enjoyed the conversations but also the silence, I found a certain peace in it.  I savoured the glass of wine at the end of the trip.

I was surprised to learn most of my friends thought I was crazy for taking this journey with the girls.  I tried to reassure them that 8 years is a lot of time and much can change.  They walked away shaking their heads, not persuaded.

The last few hours of our trip we started planning next years adventure.  I am going to enjoy these moments in time while I can.   In six years Grace is off to college, two years later Sarah will be on her way and two years Sophie will leave me.  Then they will all be gone.  Chris and I would love to travel the world and hang out on beaches when they move on but at that point we will be completely broke and may have to live with one of them after paying for swimming, braces, vacations, colleges and weddings.  I hope if we are good to them now they will take pity on us someday.

In the meanwhile, I decided I want to be a Gypsy.  We can get a Winnebago and drive around the country (primarily the parts with beaches and no snow).   I am probably not mentally equipped to home school but they have all that set up on the internet these days.  Chris can be their swim coach.  We will need to figure out how to pull the 25 yard pool off the back of that thing but that’s just a small detail to be ironed out.  Totally doable.

What doesn’t kill you

Apparently Kelly Clarkson has it right. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or so says Grace.

Grace worked her ass off this year. She had one goal. Go to zones. Mission accomplished. The hard work didn’t kill her at all. It actually worked. Grace went to zones.

She said it was the greatest thing she has ever done. They travelled by bus. Stayed in a hotel. The food was “fantastic”. They went bowling, played laser tag, drove go-karts and went to see a movie. She made amazing friends. Oh. And they swam. It sounds fun doesn’t it? Aside from the pesky swimming. What is not to love about zones?

Turns out Grace is pretty bad at go-karts. This concern me a little. I was looking forward to her getting her license on her 16th birthday so I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn for swim practice. I don’t think this will happen. Laser tag is also not her thing. She was the first one killed off. I have been bowling with her, she needs a Nerf bowling ball. All right, so she sucks at all these leisure activities. At least she can swim. Right?

Turns out swimming wasn’t really her thing at zones either. Suffice to say, she didn’t get any best times. I was hoping she would be somewhat disappointed. She wasn’t.

All she can talk about now is HOW she can qualify for zones next year. At the bottom of her age group. She wants to meet with her coaches at the beginning of the season to map out her strategy. She wants to go to the new early morning practice. She can not stop talking about and thinking about going to zones next year.

I personally would have liked to have seen her do better at the meet. But next best thing is walking away highly motivated to go next year.

I think next years goal will need to be “go to zones and kick ass”. We forgot that piece last year. I wasn’t disappointed, we are in it for the long haul. She is 12.

After a two week break, including a cruise and a trip to the beach, I look forward to the start of the next season. Sarah is sticking with swimming another year and Sophie is anxious to get back to it. Here we go.


The Underwater Window

Looking for a great end of summer read? Sad that Olympic Swimming is over? Look no further.


A novel by Dan Stephenson

From the author:

In Chapter 6 of THE UNDERWATER WINDOW, we meet some of Doyle Wilson’s teammates, including the denizens of Team Jaguar’s “animal lane.” Almost every team has an “animal lane,” reserved for the swimmers who will try any insane set the coach throws out. I swam in a few animal lanes. I can still get pictures in my mind’s eye of swimming specific sets 35 years ago. The guys who shared animal lanes with me are still close friends decades later. It’s no coincidence.

—Dan Stephenson, author of THE UNDERWATER WINDOW.

Swimming at the top level is like a job. Here’s how it dominates a swimmer’s life:

Swim practice takes two and a half hours—three and a half if you count getting there and back, showers, getting dressed and undressed. Most days you do that twice, occasionally three times. Then there’s weight training. Some people run or bike or do other dryland cross-training. Swimming is six days a week, and some lunatic coaches add a practice on the seventh day. Add it up, and the time commitment is 40-50 hours a week. Maybe 60 for the truly committed.

In most jobs, you get a paid vacation. Swimming is year-round. When the short-course season ends, the long-course season begins. If you’re training for the Olympics, there’s no chance to take a real vacation. What are you going to do, anyway? You can’t do anything dangerous, like snowboarding. I went snowboarding once when I was in high school, just for a day. I only skipped one practice. I didn’t think my coach would find out, but he did, and he practically popped an artery.

The amount of heavy partying you can do is limited. There’s little time, you’re tired, and there’s a workout almost every morning. Every workout counts, and if you show up hung over, or start puking in the gutter, everyone knows. For elite swimmers, there are random drug tests which can take place at the pool or even at home. You don’t have time to watch much TV or blog and tweet on the internet, so you’re “out of it” in social conversations.

You definitely take this job home with you. You take the smell of chlorine everywhere. Your eyes get bloodshot, which makes you look like you’ve been smoking dope. Chlorine makes your skin itch and burn for hours after you exit the pool. Most swimmers, at one time or another, get a painful ear infection called “Swimmer’s Ear.” You get water stuck in your ears all the time, and then your hearing ebbs.

Many jobs are sedentary and physically unchallenging. In swimming, at every practice, twice a day, you inflict as much pain on yourself as you can stand. The whole idea is to make it hurt. You elevate your heart rate and blood pressure. You starve yourself of oxygen. You tax every muscle in your body. Every serious swimmer experiences some level of shoulder pain. Breaststrokers get groin injuries from kicking like frogs.

Some jobs are boring and repetitive. Swimming is drudgery. You stare at a black line on the bottom of the pool and count strokes. Thirty-two strokes per 50 meters. Ten thousand strokes a day. Three and a half million strokes a year. Swimming is relentless. It dominates your thought life in and out of the pool. It affects how you eat, sleep and dream.

Swimming is one of the most popular participation sports in America.

Excerpted from THE UNDERWATER WINDOW © 2012 by Dan Stephenson. Excerpted with permission from the author. All Rights Reserved.


Assets for Dan Stephenson’s THE UNDERWATER WINDOW

Paperback Edition, Watermark, June 2012

E-book Edition, Untreed Reads Publishing, May 2012

Dan Stephenson’s website




THE UNDERWATER WINDOW Description, Cover and Buy Links


About Dan Stephenson – Bio and Photo


A Q&A with Dan Stephenson






“Swimming World TV” Skype interview with Dan

http://tv.swimmingworldmagazine.com/shows/the-morning-swim-show/morning-swim-show-episodes/16113 or on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNy6ICFfjhU

She has good taste in friends

Last Sunday at the Zones meeting Grace finally got to meet my friend Sherry’s daughter.  Sherry lives in Virginia and her kids swim for a different swim club.  We met a year and a half ago at…of all places a swim meet.  We both had to endure 9-10 and 11-12 sessions and by the end of it all, had decided we would sit by one another at any and all swim meets.  She is just that cool –  I don’t know why she puts up with me.  I am usually late, hungry and don’t have a heat sheet.  I made it up to her last meet.  I got there very early both days and saved great seats.  It is true I was hungry and didn’t have a heat sheet but the seats made up for it.

Anyways, after the zone meeting we went to lunch.  Sherry had her two that were going to zones and I had Grace.  The kids sat at a separate table.  And didn’t bother us.  That was a good sign.  Grace and Sydney had met briefly here and there behind the blocks but had never engaged in real conversation.  On the way home Grace was her usual quiet self.  But she did say “I really like Sydney”.

When Sherry and I first met, we had no idea that our girls would be going to Zones together.  Here we are a year and many, many races later, texting each other.  Have you heard from the girls?  Did they make it?  Are they having fun?  We didn’t get much response at first.  Grace finally called me.  She said the food was awesome, the pool deck was small and that they got a bag tag and another cap (I believe I mentioned that she likes stuff).  She couldn’t wait to get off the phone.  But not before telling me that she got to know Sydney really well on the bus and that she really liked her.  I updated Sherry via text, who up to that point hadn’t gotten much.  A little later I got one from her.  “Sydney is headed to Grace’s room to watch a movie”.

I go to bed happy.  I look forward to many more years of this.  If it weren’t for great friends – none of us would survive this sport.  Grace and I are both lucky in that regard.

Time to rewrite the goals

Last September I said these words to Grace:


She did.  She said she wanted to go to Zones.

I knew instantly why.  Grace wanted the sweat suit, t-shirts, cap, suit and swim bag.  She likes crap that screams “I did something great”!  Go ahead and judge me.  I am fine with that.  I was willing to write the check if she figured out how to get herself to zones.  And that she did.

Grace worked her ass off.  She never missed practice.  She didn’t talk during practice.  She tried.  Really hard.

Fast forward to today.  I put her on a bus.  Heading to Zones.  I don’t care how.  I don’t care why.  All I know is she did what she wanted.  She went to zones.

It isn’t likely that she will make finals.  I don’t really care.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter.  For the first time ever, Grace decided “hey, I want this” and she went after it…..She got it.

She is with a great group of kids, having the time of her life.  I tried not to be emotional as I dropped her off but the truth is I cried all the way home.  I am proud of all of my kids, all the time but this is a moment in time I won’t ever forget.

She will be 13 next year.  Being bottom of her age group won’t be easy.  But I don’t suspect that will stop her. We just need to find meets that give away good crap.


The running commentary of my children

“Michael Phelps needs to quit swimming and find a wife, he is too old to be swimming he needs to get a job”

“Is diving safe?”

“They wouldn’t get wedgies in beach volleyball if their bottoms weren’t so small”

“Is swimming EVER going to come on?”

“We would be British if the pilgrims didn’t run away from home”.

“if I go to the Olympics do you think they will spell my name right on the cap?”

“Jumping far into sand is a sport? They should jump past it so they don’t get dirty”.

“Tennis is the best sport, they wear pretty dresses ”

“Is that a real girl?”

“Are you going to watch any of these shows they are previewing?”

“You need to have perfect aim when you run that fast.”

“Why don’t they have a world record line in running? It seems like a waste of money to only use it in swimming,”

“if I go to the Olympics can I get an Olympic tatoo?”

The downside of the Olympics

I love the Olympics. Especially the summer Olympics. My girls are at great ages to watch and have been glued to the TV.

There has been an unexpected result though. All three of them have decided that dad and I basically ruined their lives when we opted for swimming as the chosen sport. Apparently they wanted to be gymnasts. So much so that they are ready to quit swimming and spend all their days in the gym. They have even put together a bit of a home study program. They have mastered back bends on their own in just a week. They truly believe that they could be doing flips and leaps in four years at the Olympic level. I don’t have the heart to tell them that the gymnastics ship has already sailed. Grace also happens to be 5’7″ at the age of 12.

I suspect their are gymnasts all over the world drooling over Ryan Lochte and envious of Katie Ledecky. They are begging their parents to take them to the pool.

In their hearts I know they love swimming but I also know how they feel. During the winter games I go to bed with dreams of becoming a snowboarder. Which is pretty funny because I despise snow. But man that is a bad ass sport!

The Olympians all inspire our children. Hard work and determination pays off. I bow down to the greatness of them all.

The good, the bad and the average

Swimming is a blast when the kids do well. Everyone is all happy and high fiving and what not. This part of the job is easy. These are the meets where I rarely see my kids, they are in a wonderful mood.

Being a good parent is also easy when the kids do poorly. Generally my kids know when they have tanked a race and why. They are usually pretty upset about it and my job as mom is to make sure they know it is ok and that I love them no matter how they swim.

I can handle these. What challenges me is when the girls do fine. Not good. Not bad. Just fine. I am baffled.

This happened to Grace last weekend. She swam in our summer swim league All-Star meet. She was seeded top 16 in Individual Medley, Free, Back and Fly. They are only allowed to swim two events and Grace’s highest two seeds were IM and back. She hadn’t taken off time all summer in IM and was due for a nice race. She had been swimming back stroke consistently and strong all summer and this was her final shot at that pool record – remember, she was a few tenths of a second off.

Her seeding for IM was 9th. She swam. Added a second and came in 11th. All righty then. My advice to her? Put it behind you. Focus on your backstroke and get the job done.

After watching the race I went back to the team area. Another team mom said “Grace did great”. And this is where I blew it. I simply replied “okay?”. Yes, I asked it as a question. I have replayed that moment in my head a few times and I can’t make it come out any better. It really was an odd response. I know I should have said something like, thanks or it is an honor to be here or she is happy or some crap like that. But I didn’t.

I could have also made up some lame excuse like her knees hurt in breast or she was tired but none of that was really the truth either. Simply put, she did okay.

She swam backstroke. I wish I could tell you that she turned it around – she was seeded third. Ended up sixth. Got a medal not a plaque. Added half a second. She missed her turn. Okay.

Some meets just suck. The kids do terrible. I have noticed that they seem to do it collectively. Some meets rock. Everyone is on their A game. And some…just okay. This was one of those days. What I need to remember is that okay for her puts her #6 in the county, against a huge field of competitors. Perspective sometimes gets lost.

Does it really matter that she missed the 11-12 pool record by a few tenths? That she has a medal not a plaque? That I gave the wrong response to a compliment? I hope not. In the end, it was just another day, another race another meet. My kids don’t always have to be awesome. But they need to be happy. A big breakfast and a long nap later and all was right in the world again. Next week Grace goes to Zones. She will swim that 50 back yet another time. She is due for a good one. Fingers crossed.