My son quit swim team.
This year has been rough, moving, then starting middle school, growing 7″, being off his ADHD meds (his choice because he did so well during remote schooling, he figured it wasn’t a problem anymore). Swimming has been rough, too. He’s wanted to do theater, which meant more time for rehearsal and less time for practice. He’s doing percussion. He wants to do video game club. The weather this past month has lead to practices being canceled left and right.
The last swim meet he swum was a disaster. He didn’t even swim the second day. And then he fought me going to practice every. single. day. We negotiated changing days, I stayed off pool deck when he was swimming, he talked to the head coach. And then, last Tuesday, he came downstairs, and tearfully admitted to me probably one of the most difficult things he has ever had to admit: he hates swimming.
Without blinking I immediately said, then we’ll take a break, and he insisted he was quitting, and I guess that’s on me that I can’t yet admit it to myself that this is probably it for him and swimming. And I feel all the things as a mother and as a coach about this, but this is about him, and he isn’t happy, and as I’ve written before, I’m not going to force my kids to do things and that quitting is always an option. But then TimeHop and all my FB memories keep reminding me, oh hey, this many years ago, the kids decided to do summer swim. And this many years ago, he swam his first 12 and Under Champs. And look at these old videos of him swimming when he was ever so small, and doesn’t he look like a natural breaststroker.
What happened, I silently screamed to myself, what did I do or not do?
I still coach, because I still love to coach and made a commitment for this season and to these kids and my fellow coaches. Besides, what would I do with my evenings, if not for coaching? My ADHD inertia means that the answer would most likely be: not much. I walk about 3-4 miles while I coach, pacing up and down the pool deck, and I can say that I would not make up those miles if not for the purpose of me coaching. So many things that I could do, but really, I’m at my happiest on deck, with or without my kids there to coach, or as a reason to be there.
I don’t know if that makes it easier or harder on my son.
I told him he could just take a break from everything, no pressure to choose some other physical activity, but the mother in me is already worried about all the extra time he spends now up in his room, playing video games, online with his friends. I want him…out, doing something, socializing with different people, pushing himself. But I keep all of those worries at bay as well. He mentioned maybe basketball, and I worry that at 13, with no real training outside of PE class that he’s too far behind and will end up hating basketball even more quickly. I am looking into maybe water polo, because at least he already knows how to swim.
I share none of these things with anyone. I keep them locked up inside because I know that I am too much, and that this is too much, and so I have to let him live, but also set up a new appointment with his doctor to see what we should try for meds given his new size and predicaments. He’s 13 now, and I can’t figure out how to set it up so I can still set up appointments and renew prescriptions for him. I don’t want to call, he doesn’t want me sitting next to him on his computer while I try to relay directions to him.
My daughter, the other night, asked me for help with reading and interpreting sonnets, because she is “bad” at it, and I revealed myself to be equally bad at it (literally read the first lines in the opposite way they were intended). These are the times when she lets me in, however tentatively, to try and help, to share the things that I should be good at, trying to reassure her that you can get a PhD in comparative literature and still be shit at analyzing sonnets. She is dreading the next unit, because they will be reading Romeo and Juliet, “in Old English” she sighs.
“Middle English,” I say, and she rolls her eyes, but I’m allowed to stay in the room.
“The teacher asked if parents had the right to dictate who their kids date or marry, and I went off. Kinda took the teacher by surprise. I said that parents don’t own their kids, and kids don’t owe anything to their parents. They have no right to dictate anything, dating, marriage, what we wear, who we’re friends with, what we study – none of it. It’s not their lives, its our lives. Let us make mistakes, because how will we learn otherwise? That’s a stupid saying, I brought you into this world; I can take you out!”
“Bill Cosby said that. One of his most famous ‘jokes.'” We both sit there in silence while the implications of that hang in the air.
“Anyway, the teacher pushed back and the other kids in the class were like, whoa there. But I feel really, really strongly about this.”
I am both proud and awed and a little concerned about what the teacher now thinks of me and my parenting. The daughter is a paradox of rules-following and outright being obstinate and fiercely independent. I remember thinking all of those things that she is saying to me, but locking them inside because I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes, talk back, make my own decisions. I have been invited into her space, and she trusts me enough to share this completely rational and yet still radical truth about how she views the world.
If there is one thing that I am most proud of as a parent, it’s this. My daughter speaking up and speaking out. My son admitting to me that he hates one of the things that he knows I love. That my son doesn’t need swimming that way I needed swimming, to escape, to hide, to be some freer version of myself that wasn’t available to me at home or at school. That they both let me into their lives as budding adults and be honest about it.
I am sad my son quit swimming. I am so, so happy and relieved that he knew that he could.