Monday, September 28, 2009

The First Swim Meet, or Wherein I Discover Ugly Truths About Myself

Last Friday morning, the girls and I and my mom went to the Japanese gardens near our house with a photographer to have some pictures taken. I had wanted to have this done for awhile, and our window of time is closing soon. My mom doesn't get out much anymore, and I was happy that she made it through 45 minutes of our allotted hour of picture taking.

The girls held my mom's hands while walking through the garden, and Lucy said, "Remember all our walks we used to take, Manga?" and my mom replied, "Yes, we've had some good times together, haven't we, Lucy?"

I've been thinking about the pictures so much lately and planning the girls' outfits and obsessing about the weather--I guess I thought it would make me happy. But when we got there, all it did was make me almost unbearably sad.

Then Friday night was Lucy's first swim meet. She's been on the swim team since September 1st. I never wanted her to be particularly competitive, I just wanted her to try her best and have fun. And maybe get a swimming scholarship to college, but we can think about that later.

She was quite nervous about the meet, so I told her the story of the Rabbit and the Turtle. "So, just keep telling yourself, 'Slow and steady wins the race,'" I ended, "Oh, and it doesn't matter if you win anyway, just keep going and finish. It's supposed to be fun."

When we got to the swimclub, Lucy saw a friend from school who was competing also. They ran off together to get ready for the meet. Elaine and I settled ourselves on the sidelines, while Darren walked around with the camera. Lucy was scheduled for three heats--25-meter backstroke, 25-meter breaststroke, and 25-meter freestyle.

Now, she is a good swimmer, and she's been practicing hard for the whole month, so I settled back to watch her easily take all three of these. In the backstroke, she was up against three other children; her friend from school came in first. Lucy came in last but not by too much.

Here I am, sitting relatively calmly on the sidelines.

Then she got ready for the breaststroke--the hardest of the three. She was competing against two other swimmers on this one.

Her friend from school came in first. Lucy came in last, again--this time by a long margin.

Like I said though, that's the hardest stroke, and she just kept going until she reached the end so I was proud of her. But now I was starting to feel bad.

Then they moved to the freestyle. Lucy is great at freestyle, so I was really ready for her to win this one. Or even second place--I'd be happy with second place. I'm not sure what happened to my "we're not competitive; we just want to have fun" outlook.

The coach said, "Swimmers, take your mark! Go!" and they were off. Except for some reason, Lucy was doing the breaststroke again, while everyone else was swimming freestyle like crazy. Lucy wasn't even to the middle of the pool, and they were almost to the finish. "FREESTYLE, LUCY!" I yelled, "FREESTYLE!" But she didn't hear me. Finally, everyone was just yelling to her, "Finish, Lucy, finish!" and they applauded when she got to the end. Of course by that time, all the other kids had gotten out of the pool.

After that, it was time for the awards ceremony. For each race called, Lucy's friend from school won the first-place blue ribbon. Lucy won the green "participant" ribbon for the first race and the yellow third-place ribbon (since there were only three swimmers) for the others.

"Lucy," I called to her after the first ribbon she got, thinking she might be feeling as terrible as I was and needing me.

"Mom, I just want to be over here with Marissa, OK?" she answered and ran off to her friend.

This is a good thing. A great thing. The last thing I want is some kid who can never leave my side while we have some dreadful, enmeshed relationship and she has to leave college after the first month because she can't be separated from me (that really happened to some people we know).

But standing there all by myself in that swimclub, with my mom leaving me in one direction and my daughter leaving me in the other, I think it is the loneliest I have ever felt in my entire life. And who knows why I felt so bad that she lost every race because when the ceremony was over, Lucy ran to me to show me all her ribbons.

She grabbed my hand and said, "Look, Mama! I got two yellow ones--my favorite color! And I can do anything I want with these ribbons, so I can keep them forever! Did I do OK while I was swimming? Did you see me?"

"You did great," I assured her, "I was so proud of you for doing your best and swimming to the finish every single time. And," I added as only moms can do, "you looked just precious in your swimming suit and goggles."

On Saturday we all went over to my parents' because some relatives had come in from out of town (oh, and I scored a Kate Spade bag for $10 at a flea market, but that's a whole 'nother story), and while we were waiting for them to arrive, my mom was reading a story to Lucy.

I was sitting next to them, drifting in and out of sleep. "Don't wake up Mama, " I heard my mom whisper to Lucy, "she's so tired."

"My mom is tired all the time because she's worried about you, Manga," Lucy whispered back.

"I know she is," my mom answered. "But you've got to help her. You just keep telling her that I'm in God's hands," which is so my mom, always encouraging everyone, always the voice of reason, always tapping on that rock beneath our feet, reminding us that it's there even though we feel like everything is shifting under us.

So it goes on, moms and daughters and daughters and moms, with all the exhilarating happiness and excruciating sadness that goes with them and that unique relationship. We can't do it without each other. One can go for a little while, but she's not ever really gone. And I guess you have to let go of their hand sometimes, but somehow, some way, one of them always comes back again to grab hold of it.


Kacie said...

Oh boy, good for you for not saying anything more than you did during and after the swim meet!

Moms and daughters, moms and daughters. This weekend I spent some time with my family and watched the dynamics play out before me! Interesting to see the different way that my mom interacts with me (at 26), my sister Joy (at 18) and my sister Michelle (still in the middle of high school).

picturingme said...

Beautiful post, Alice. It brought me to tears...

picturingme said...

...and I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures that were taken at the garden...

Ann-Marie said...

Alice, this moved me to tears! What a precious relationship and how gracious of God to give daughters and mothers to each other in that special revolving bond. Love to you, your girls, and your exceptional mom!

Alysa said...

I'm so sad, Alice. I don't want your mom to leave, either.

Juliet said...

Another excellent post as only a writer like you could post.

In the front entry way I have a picture by D. Morgan. The three children are walking on a fence in their front yard. The wording goes like this: " Let us guide our children with wisdom. Let us listen to their problems. And help them find solutions. Let us give them unconditional love. No maater what...And when they are grown, let us find the courage to let go.

Not saying it's easy, but just a part of life.

Melanie said...

This is a beautiful post, Alice. The writer in me wants you to send it off for publication - it brought me to tears. I love how Lucy handled the competition - you're doing such a good job of continuing your mom's style of parenting - well done you!

Anonymous said...

This is just beautiful, Alice. Incidentally, it may comfort you to know that when my eldest swam in his first meet, he accidentally jumped in with his flipflops on. It's safe to say, he kept a firm hand on last place.