Sunday, June 10, 2012


This is the time of year my competitive juices begin to gurgle.  Yes, my daughter Ciara went to States for track;  yes my daughter Lizzy made baseball all-stars, those are both fine and wonderful things but I am often the least interested parent on the sidelines, often reading and asking other parents to nudge me when something interesting happens, often an injury.  I like sports and I love my kids but today I watched a tight, competitive soccer game on a beautiful day from my truck.  My kids tell me it's enough that I'm there, and available to bring them for post-game treats, and I take them at their word.  I'm proud of them.  They know.

No, what gets me laser-focused is my son's swim competition.  For the Special Olympics.

Of all the things I may go to hell for, this is likely in the top ten.  I look at the competition and I say "manageable."  I look at Billy and say "potential."  I look at a pool and I get goggle-eyed, the chlorine concentration in my blood going just from approaching the parking lot.  And what comes out of my mouth is new for me:  Win.

He's at the state games this weekend, and what I am supposed to be saying is that he's doing fine.  In reality, I think he's far too distracted by Olympic Town, staying in dorms, the Pirate Dance tonight, his hoped-for girlfriend across the tent, the ring pop I brought him and his progress in his Pokemon White game to really focus on his swim time.  He told me before the meet even started that there were a lot of faster swimmers there and so he probably wouldn't medal.  This, I had to take him aside to discuss.

Billy, I said.  You absolutely can medal.  Remember how you got the Gold, the Silver and the Bronze at the regional games?  That nice police officer put them around your neck?  Remember how great that felt?  These  are a lot of the same swimmers.  You can do the same, just try your best, don't worry about any of that other stuff for the minute of each race, okay?

He looked at me like the idiot that I am.  Billy is a perceptive boy.  And he said it:  Mom, it's only a race.  It's okay to let other people win.  Then it makes them happy.  I have a lot of medals already.  Then he wandered off to throw balls at a tree to pass the time until he was called.

I've already blamed my concussion for enough, and don't have room to detail my general character flaws that would make this less surprising, so I'll blame this insane drive to push Billy to win his races on my love of swimming and the needs of a Special Olympics parent.

Lynn Sherr in her new and gripping (to me) book Swim does a much finer job than I ever could in describing how happily obsessive swimmers can be.  Though I haven't swum competitively since high school, all this proves that I probably should, if only it would shut me up.  There are Masters meets;  merely a practice would likely do me in.  The adage "just swim faster" is so inane that I can't, honestly, believe that I'm saying these words to me.  Once, I took his morning med dose by accident (don't ask) and slept for 36 hours straight.  That was only his morning dose.  It's half his evening dose.  My God, how he even gets down the pool ladder without falling into the drink in a stupor is a miracle.  Yet his hyper-driven little body makes me think he can zip through the water, and sometimes he does!  Rather than simply give thanks for that, I want him to do it all the time.  Foolish, greedy mother.

And herein comes the needs of the Special Olympians' parents.  I am aware that I am one of the youngest.  In contrast to my grammar school daughters' parent events where my husband and I are ancient, here I am among the Very Young because with genetic testing, the number of kids born with Down Syndrome and other genetic anomalies shrinks more every year.  Since Special Olympians can and do compete their whole lives (a heartfelt shout-out to the Special Olympics founders, coaches and volunteers for this), their average age thus creeps up a bit each year.  And, most critically, we parents never really fade into the distance.  We are not at home waiting for visits. We are feeding their child breakfast, cleaning their clothes, getting them onto buses, bringing them to the doctor and filling their prescriptions just like when our child was ten--but we do it still when our child is thirty, fifty, and beyond.  Why not let us live vicariously through our kid every once in awhile?  Our responsibility for our child never drops off because they never reach true independence--it stays in the stratosphere of intensity reserved for recalcitrant toddlers and temperamental teenagers, forever.

I of course understand why pregnant people would not volunteer for this, and yet I have the same bittersweet knowledge that they're missing out that all the other parents there have.  It is truly fun lots of the time, and much easier to do a good job.  Love them, care for them, encourage them, accept them.  How hard is that?  For every other parent there, seemingly not hard at all.  For me?  I want more.  I want to motivate, to push, to bask in glory.  Because every parent has that right, whether they exercise it or not.

So I am literally fighting my urge to post the picture from regionals of Billy getting the gold for the 50 backstroke in under 40 seconds.  It was a very proud moment for us.  Yet, if I asked him, Billy would tell me to post the 4th place ribbon he got from this morning instead because he's proud of it.  Says the race was hard and he did his best.  I hugged him, I kissed him, I told him I was proud, and now I'm going to post... both.

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