Why I Could Never Be An Olympic Parent
There’s a great commercial showing during the Olympic games.
I watch that and my heart catches in my throat and my eyes start to water. It’s a series of incredibly touching images. And it’s true, that no matter how old our children get, we’ll always see them as our babies.
It’s the image of the mom at the end of the commercial, though, that hits me the hardest now. She holds her breath as her son descends off the high dive. Her mouth is open, her eyes are bright, and then she smiles a huge smile as he finishes. I’ve been watching other moms during the Games, too. While watching the qualifying round for Women’s Gymnastics last night, I saw one mom calling out every move, showing her determination and knowledge of her daughter’s routine. Another mom was grasping the railing in front of her seat and alternately hiding her eyes and peeking out while her daughter performed.
All of these images of the mothers of Olympic athletes make me pretty sure there’s no way in the world I could ever be one of them.
Just last week, my eight-year-old son decided he was finally ready to take our town pool’s dive test, and I barely survived that. In order to use the diving boards, any child under age 10 must pass a dive test. They need to jump in off the side of the dive tank, swim one lap across, touch the wall, swim another lap back, and stop before touching that wall. Then they have to tread water, keeping their head entirely out of the water for a full minute.
I’ve mentioned before that my oldest just isn’t s very strong athlete. He does okay, but achieves most kid goals a few years behind his peers. Riding a bike and swimming were two of the biggest hurdles for him. While he’s had years and years of lessons, I think confidence has always been his greatest obstacle.
So when he told me that he was ready and wanted to take the dive test with his friend last week, I tried to hide my own panic. I knew he was ready for the swimming part, but he had never been able to tread water for the full minute before.
Knowing how he and I butt heads whenever I try to teach him anything myself, I let him go to practice with his friends. I sat there watching him, with my heart racing, and my hands shaking. The burn of sweat that prickled all over my body had nothing to do with the heat of the summer sun. My heart and mind battled over how I was handling this rite of passage. My brain was telling me to go over and coach him so he would have a fighting chance of passing. My heart knew that he needed to do this for himself and that I risked him shutting down if I hounded him too much.
I shot as many pointers as I could to him via mommy telepathy, across the pool. “Make sure you jump out wide into the pool. Don’t rush the swimming so you save energy for the treading. Keep your head up. Push the water down. Don’t over practice or you’ll be too tired for the actual test.”
I sat there with my girlfriends, worrying over our boys. One of my friends’ sons was taking the test with my son and my other girlfriend’s son had already passed the test and was coaching our boys.
“I feel sick to my stomach with worry. The waiting is killing me!” I admitted to them both.
When the time came for the kids to take the test, we all walked over to the dive tank. When Robbie’s name was called, he was paired up with a girl he didn’t know, instead of his friend. Uh oh. I hoped that wouldn’t throw him off. All of our eyes were on him. I stood on shaky legs and watched my son jump into water deeper than any he had ever swum in before. He made his away across the pool and back, taking his time. He used a combination of a few different, flailing strokes, but made the forward progress nonetheless. The lifeguard told us all to stop chanting his name, that they needed us quiet during the test.
I watched him, tired, but still going as he started his one minute of treading water. About halfway through, I saw his, “I’m about to give up” face. The girl next to him had just finished and he heard the lifeguard tell her, “You’re done.” As if in slow motion, I saw my son reach his hand out to the side of the pool to grab on. I wasn’t sure if he thought he was already finished, or if he was just too tired to keep going.
I shouted out, “NO ROBBIE!! Keep going!!” I think I scared my already-tired kid more than anything else. But he snatched his hand back and kept treading. “You’re almost finished, kiddo! Just a little bit more! Sing your song in your head!”
And then I belted out a few lines of “I’m Sexy And I Know It,” without any embarrassment at all. At that moment, whatever my kid needed to get through the next 20 seconds was all that mattered. He smiled through his exhaustion, but kept treading and kept his head above water.
“Okay, you’re done,” announced the lifeguard.
“WHAT??!” I asked. “Did he make it?” I wasn’t sure if it was a “Time’s up, good job,” or a “Your head dipped too low, you failed,” announcement.
“Oh, yeah, he did it,” she told me, so calmly I wanted to shake her to see if she was alive.
My whole body was wired. My heart was still pounding and I was frazzled, with every nerve ending buzzing. How could she be so calm after that ordeal?!!
I didn’t know there was another part of the test. Neither did my son. He looked over at me, wide-eyed, then turned and walked away to line up at the board. When his turn was up, he climbed the steps, and walked out to the edge. Then he stopped and stood there for what seemed like an eternity, but was only a few seconds. It may have only been the middle diving board a few feet above the water, but, for those seconds, it might as well have been the London Bridge sporting the Olympic rings.
My heart was in my throat and I held my breath as he pushed off his feet and jumped off the board. I’m sure I looked nothing like the woman in the P&G commercial, though. There was no composure. I may have even been pulling my hair out by the root. But my son splashed down into the water and he scramble-swam to the ladder, pulling himself out of the water.
We all walked over and let the kids gorge themselves on Push Pops and Doritos in the picnic area. I sat down, sipping my water as if I had just been the one put through the ringer. I blinked away a few hot tears as I came down from my emotional roller coaster.
One rite of passage down, about a million more to go. If that’s how I react when my son takes the town dive test, there is no way I could ever handle being an Olympic parent.
I think I’ll need to stock up on Valium and beta blockers from here on out. At least I know they won’t let me in the car with him when it’s time to get his driver’s license.
Here’s to all of the parents of Olympic athletes out there. You deserve medals of your own. I don’t know how you do it.