My kids and their friends are not serious swimmers - this is their first year of 'swim team.' They've never participated in a meet before and all they know of what makes a swim a 'meet' are the force fed memories I have recounted for them on many occasions. You see, my swim team experience is one I wish I could give them, and it has absolutely nothing to do with perfect strokes and extensive practice.
In the neighborhood where I grew up, we had a pool. As far as I knew, every neighborhood where everyone grew up had a similar pool. And, as far as I knew, every child in each of those neighborhoods swam on the swim team. That's the way it was, I thought. I don't know how it came to be that my sister and I swam on the team; that's just the way it was. And I'm thankful.
I'm sure I'm missing a few of the negative details, for surely there were some, but what I remember of it was quite wonderful. Our summers were eaten up with swimming and the pool was the central focus of our kid lives. Each weekday morning we jumped on our bikes and rode (often with no hands on the bike) down the hill to the pool. We joined other friends of all different ages from the other areas of the neighborhood and jumped off of our bikes in unison, throwing them into a pile of colorful medal and banana seats. I mention this pile of two-wheeled treasure for I picture it perfectly in my mind - it's an illustration of a great time, a time with no bike locks, no perfect order, no helmets, and no vigilant accompanying parents - it's picture of a big mess of simplicity. The only worry associated with time at the pool was in needing to leave early for some reason and realizing that you had the bike at the bottom of the pile.
My memories of being on the Cedar Creek Swim Team are these: early morning practices filled with lots of laughs as we complained that the water was too cold - hard work as coaches and friends pushed us to try harder, to do our best - charts where our times were posted and glee when we watched our numbers get better - lots of fun for the remainder of the day as we went about our days all in the confines of this Athens, Georgia eastside subdivision pool. Many of our meals were eaten at the pool, we played cards at the pool, we swam in the rain, in the dark, all day long. I remember putting my towel beside the teenagers and spending whole days learning every word to Philadelphia Freedom and such. We huddled in the 'chemicals' building when it stormed and hoped it would clear up in time to get back out for more fun, we took turns giggling as we answered the pay phone just across from the shallow end, we taught younger friends how to play Spider and Marco Polo and all of the other staples of summertime in the seventies. It was fun. Really fun. And the only thing better than any old summer day was Thursday nights . . .
Thursday nights were when we had the meets! Thursday nights were when our friends' swim team came to our pool or we went to theirs, where we painted ourselves with the names of our races, donned our stars and stripes racing suits, proudly wore our swim caps and shouted for our teams. Thursday nights were 'what it was all about.'
I've thought a lot about those times since my kids' meet on Saturday, and I've marveled at what I remember. What I remember is what I wish most to give my children, what matters most. What I remember is a feeling, a full feeling of happiness and love and excitement and a time when I shared simple fun with most of the people I knew best in the world. Thursdays were awesome, though I know that isn't the word we used at the time (I'm trying to remember what we said, but I know it was good.)
On Thursdays everyone ended up at the pool; the mamas and the daddies, the folks who stayed at home and the ones that worked in an office, they all ended up at the pool on Thursdays. On Thursdays we didn't eat 'real' food - no way - we snacked all evening on pure junk (this was just before we learned that pure sugar wasn't actually the best way to fuel a body for hard work) and each family had a home base - that was where a parent sat, guarded the towels and the chairs, and watched over the candy, the treasures. And the parent who wasn't at the home base was either at the end of a lane as timer or working at the concession stand or manning the ribbon table. There were folks watching over us everywhere. I didn't think about that then, I just reveled in the fun, in the belonging. Parents gathered us in the bullpen and coaches gave us last minute pointers and we laughed - a lot.
What I've thought about most in the last few days is what EXACTLY I remember from those times. And what I DON'T remember. I have absolutely no idea about the particulars, no clue who was best at which race. I have no idea who won each heat, but I often see the face of the sweet girl who almost always came in last, and I remember how her spirit and her smile made her the hands-down favorite of all of us. Though I know I loved breaststroke best, I don't recall which distance I swam most or which heat I liked to be in or which friends I swam against most. I don't remember any of that. None of that is part of the magic in my mind.
I remember the feelings, the security, the routine, the knowing about what to expect. I remember the faces of the all of the folks around the pool, the sights of the parents - mine and my friends - who cheered us on, who wanted us to succeed, who wrapped us in big, dry towels and hugged us and squealed with us about how wonderful it all was. I remember all of that; I remember exactly what it felt like, how it sounded, the noises of the races in the background, the loudspeaker calling the names of the next racers, the giggles of the babies who ran from their parents.
I remember it all, and I am thankful for those experiences. I'm thankful for the days of fun, of belonging, of feeling like I was on my own while in the caring, watchful eyes of many. I remember those times and I smile. They are good memories, and I regret that I may not be able to afford my own children those times, those early morning practices, those Thursday nights.
My mind drifts back to where we are now, to the present, and I smile as I think back to Saturday and to the faces of my kids and their friends. I remember how we cheered for each other's children and how we filled the cement at the end of each lane and how we screamed at the top of our lungs and how we sent out as much love as we could for each child in the pool.
It was different, this first meet. It was inside and there were lots of unknowns. Our children are just learning and there weren't many kids in the pool alongside them. But they swam their hearts out and they had a first lesson in looking over, realizing they weren't ahead, and knowing they had to keep trying. Us adults had our first attempts at shouting out encouragement, at yelling our hopes and wrapping them in the towels at the end of the lane. We all had our first run at the swim meet. There wasn't any junk food, save the generic Gator-ade from QuickTrip and there was no pile of bikes. We brought the kids in our mini-vans and Subarus and we watched their every move. There wasn't a ribbon table, but everybody got a bright green participation ribbon to keep. It was different from the old days, it was. But I'm thankful.
I think we all learned a lot. The kids aren't quite ready to star in a YouTube video how-to on stroke steps, but they swam - they swam hard and they were proud. We screamed and we were proud. It was good. I can't make it the way it was in 1979, but it's 2012 and my children loved their first swim meet.
I cannot know what they'll remember, but I'm pretty sure they've already forgotten where they placed in each race. And now they know what it feels like to push and try with all they have and they know what it looks like to come up for air and gaze into the many eyes of caring folks, people who want them to succeed and grow up in love and happiness. And that is good.
That's something good to remember.