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Our local neighborhood pool has a swim team that runs through the first six weeks of summer. Swim team is something I’ve been hearing the neighborhood parents rave about for years now…something about “wearing the kids out” and “helping them sleep better.” As a mom of two boys with high energy needs would obviously say, “WHERE DO I SIGN?”
Thankfully, I had SOME semblance of mind to realize it would not be that simple. As a mom of two boys with high energy needs who also happen to be five years apart, I determined that there was NO WAY I was going to spend hours sitting at a pool trying to entertain a toddler who was not allowed in the baby pool during practice. So, for the last FIVE years, I said an emphatic NO to swim team.
“You aren’t doing swim team until you are BOTH old enough to do it.”
That decision was definitely right for our family. Yes, it led to whining and feeling on the “outside” at times, but it also allowed our family to enjoy time at the pool many afternoons with a less-crowded environment, especially on meet days when the pool was practically empty.
But now it’s 2022, and THIS WAS THE YEAR they are both old enough to do it.
Our team practiced twice a day, Monday through Thursday. I don’t know if other teams do that or not. They don’t take attendance, and many kids show up for only morning practice, or only night practice. It’s a really great option for working parents.
I knew knew that swim team would be a big commimtment. I even structured our homeschool schedule to have “swim team” be one of our “six things” for this school term. The boys took an extended break some of their other subjects, like language arts.
I pictured an idyllic environment in which my boys could swim with other kids…while I sat in the shade reading, listening to podcasts, or working on my computer. It would be wonderful for their social skills – which are lacking because of their behavioral and social delays, homeschooling, and COVID.
That was it.
I had a vague awareness that there would be swim meets. I knew goggles would be involved. But when people asked me after the first two weeks how swim team was going, my answer was something like, “Well, I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.”
First, with our initial introductory emails and such, I found out that my sons would be practicing at different times. This is the exact situation I was hoping to avoid! To my relief, during their first water practice, I realized that there were “strokes” involved…strokes that my childreb didn’t know. So I received permission for my 11-year-old to practice alongside the 5 to 10-year-olds to learn said strokes.
The next shock to my mom system was our first “Swim Meet 101” meeting, where I learned about things like swim jammers and team uniforms and swim caps and volunteering and seven page heat sheets and FOUR HOUR MEETS.
I was about to nope out of there about that point.
Me: “Um, what do the kids do…while they are waiting?”
Them: “They just hang out…Don’t worry! You’ll quickly get the hang of it!”
I was NOT convinced.
Another problem was that the five years we DIDN’T put Ezra in swim team came back to bite us in the butt. Those were five years that his peers (most of whom do not have any developmental delays) learned the strokes and got stronger and stronger as swimmers. Now, my short, tiny, developmentally and emotionally delayed 11-year-old-who-acts-more-like-a-9-year-old was at a severe disadvantage and was – by far – the slowest swimmer in his age bracket. While he was allowed to practice with the younger kids, he would have to swim as an 11-year-old, against other 11-year-olds. Thus, we decided that it was crucial for our boys to practice twice a day, if possible, to try to catch up as quickly as possible.
Our first swim meet
Our first meet was an away meet on one of the hottest days of the year (forecasted low 90s – actual temp ended up being 93 degrees at 5PM) at one of the smallest pools in our league.
Both Russ and I felt that this would be an awful introduction to swim meets for all of us. It’s not just about our boys and their abilities to swim 25, 50, or 100 meters. We also have to consider things like medication, their rapid metabolisms, and my husband’s ability to handle noise and crowds and stressful environments. We told the coaches that our boys would be sitting out for this first meet. We initially planned to come and observe and cheer on the team, but when I saw the hot forecast, I decided that would be ill-advised.
Unfortunately, when we showed up for morning practice, I learned that Ezra was listed on the heat sheet and would be swimming one leg of a 200 meter relay in this first meet. It looked like we were getting thrown in to the deep end of this swim meet nonsense…sink or swim baby! (Puns 150% intended.)
So we rested and carb-loaded and coached and sunscreened and inked. I packed water and snacks and sudoku books. We showed up and parked our family in as shady as spot we could find (which wasn’t at all shady), only to show up to find out Ezra’s relay had been scratched because a teammate was sick.
There was anger and tears for Ezra, but working through disappointment is all part of the process, isn’t it? Poor kiddo. We stayed for the first race as cheerleaders, but by then, Little Brother was 50 shades of red because it was “ten quintillion degrees” (93F). So we bailed and went home to swim in our own pool, which was practically empty. Ezra swam his leg of the relay at our pool, and Daddy helped them both practice their strokes.
Embracing that swim team mom life
As short a time as we spent at that first meet, I still learned a few things. When the next meet came two days later, I had bought a collapsable wagon and a rolling cooler and was PREPARED. While I couldn’t feasibly imagine volunteering in any role, I purchased ice and two cases of water to have around for our team.
But, as is common in this part of the south, pop-up thunderstorms interfered, and our second meet was scratched. Again, there was some severe disappointment. We had a long weekend (during which we stole away to the beach for Father’s Day), and then returned for our first successful swim meet of the season.
Our first swim meet (take three)
Little Brother had one race, but Ezra was scheduled for THREE races, one of which was a 50 meter freestyle (down AND back the length of the pool one time) and then a 100 meter freestyle (down AND back the length of the pool two times)…then another 50 meters in the leg of a relay.
Ezra was so winded after his first race, that Russ was legitimately nervous that “he’s not going to make it” for his second race. I was trying to stay positive, but I had my doubts too. Russell’s anxiety was so high, causing all of us to be anxious, so I decided he and LB (who swam his event early in the evening) should walk home. I stayed behind, trying to encourage my wild child to be calm and save his energy for his race! I was only nominally successful.
So the moment of truth came. I was just praying he 1) wouldn’t pass out 2) wouldn’t quit and 3) wouldn’t be disqualified for doing something incorrectly. Because Ezra was the slowest swimmer, the other swimmers were completely done with their 100 meters before he had finished his first 50, leaving him to swim the last two lengths of the pool as the sole swimmer. The most incredible part of this was that the ENTIRE pool began to cheer just for our kiddo. Many of these parents have seen Ezra’s struggles over the last five summers, and I could feel their support of our entire family in that moment.
Russ had coached Ezra about “saving something for the end” (conserving energy throughout the swim so he didn’t peter out at the end). The majority of his race was laborously slow and steady. As he grew closer to the end, the cheers got louder, and he “turned it on.” Head down and big strokes – while the cheers of the crowd surged him forward. It was magical.
But he was exhausted and coming due for his medicine, and he had to turn around and swim another 50 meters less than 15 minutes later!
Another neat thing that happened that night was definitely a “God moment.” Our pool always has a DJ at our meets. Normally, I’m not crazy about this, as it adds significantly to the noise and chaos of meets. It can also be distracting to Ezra, who can get very caught up in the music instead of doing what he needs to do. That said, Ezra loves to request songs. Earlier in the evening, Ezra requested the song Lightning by The Afters. It’s an upbeat, pop-escque song about salvation that came on my workout playlist while I was at the gym a few months ago. It’s a song I let him listen to for motivation while he unloads the dishwasher.
To my knowledge, the DJ had no idea who requested the song (as it was a written request submitted far ealier in the evening). But it “just so happened” that the song began playing while he was on the deck, dancing along, preparing for his leg of the relay. It was still playing when he jumped into the pool.
You came like lightning and saved my soul
Run in like thunder and shook my bones
Now I’m dancing in the rain
Since You called out my name
You came like lightning and saved my soul
It’s also apropos because (on top of being Ezra’s favorite song), it matches his Typhoons team slogan:
BIG STORM RISING: thunder on the deck, lightning in the pool
If you had asked after the first two weeks of the season if I would put my kids in swim team again, I would have laughed and said, “Absolutely not. It’s just too much.” But my tone gradually changed as the weeks have gone on.
So, here’s a few things that I learned and enjoyed about being a swim team mom (albeit, a reluctant one).
Our family is resilient and has grown in our capabilities.
As we progressed through the season, each meet got better and better. Our last home meet had to be rescheduled once again, due to a downpour, but the boys had a blast playing in the rain.
While both boys maintained their “slowest swimmer” status, they improved their speeds.
Both boys smiled while they were swimming in their meets. They seemed oblivious to things like speed and placements. They were just thrilled to be swimming and having people cheering them on.
They made it through 3+ hour swim meets with little complaining, as long as I was armed with snacks and activities to make the time go by more quickly.
They had good social interactions with kids their age, learning hand-clap games and inside jokes with their teammates. I learned that the youngest team members LOVED having art supplies and sidewalk chalk to share during meets, so I became the resident supplier.
They also did well in a “learning” environment listening to other authorities who aren’t their parents, with very few behavioral issues.
Swim meets are, admittedly, challenging for Russ and I (although for different reasons). Russ had to hold together his moods and anxiety in crowded, noisy environments while also coaching and cheering on the boys. His expectations for meets were definitely higher than mine, which I think is relatively normal for most dads. But I was really proud at the way he managed all of it.
For me, it’s overstimulating and overwhelming to my entire system. I’ve also volunteered as a “wrangler” for the last few meets, which adds a bit of stress. When I get home from a meet, I’m completely exhausted and can’t wait to get the boys into bed. But I didn’t have any “mommy meltdowns.”
Our community is special, and time with people is important.
This was our SEVENTH summer at our neighborhood pool. (WOW!) While we’ve been making friends and aquaintances at the pool that entire time, swim team offered all of us greater opportunities to meet (or get to know better) people in our neighborhood. There’s something that really binds you together with the people around you when you are cheering on yours and each other’s children.
The season really highlighted to me – yet again – the intense needs my family has for social interaction. This is need is particularly strong for both Russ and Ezra. While I don’t think they walked away from the season with any really close friends, their ability to spend time around other people – ANY people – helped to offset their overwhelming loneliness. It also gave them more opportunity to practice their social skills and learn how to better navigate conversation and conflict with peers.
Seeing the benefit of more socialization for our family also inspired me to look for other ways for our family to grow socially in the future. (More on that to come in a future post.)
Swim team has strengthened the boys physically.
They have worked hard. Harder than I expected. And with zero complaints (beyond being cold). It’s been incredible to watch them become stronger swimmers.
Swim team allows for them to have outdoor play without dying in this awful heat, have all of their senses engaged simultaneously, and improve in core strength and gross motor skills. We haven’t been doing that much school over the last six weeks, but I think we will see long-lasting benefits in their ability to sit still and fine motor improvements.
Swim team gave us a much-needed school break and we all grew from doing something new.
As far as school, we still did math, science and history (although not every day), Bible, and piano lessons. But swim team consummed the majority of our time for those six weeks. It was a bit of a reprieve to allow the kids to have more play time (in addition to swim team) as a way to decompress after practices or before meets.
I spent a lot of time during practices listening to podcasts and audiobooks while doing sudoku puzzles. Homeschooling has really cut into the time I’ve had to engage in these kind of activities, so that+ was very relaxing to me (and helped to offset the overall stress of the swim season).
I’m thankful for the opportunity we had to have such a new and exciting experience for our family this summer. And yes, I do plan to sign them up again next year.