Filed under: Lessons I've Learned, Sports, Things that get my gi all in a bunch
“When dealing with critics, always remember this: Critics judge things based on what is outside the context of their understanding.” -Shannon L. Alder
Several years ago, during the summer swim season, a swim dad approached me and began asking me questions about my oldest daughter and her swimming. At that point, she had been a year-round swimmer for two years. Her improvement from the two summers prior was nothing short of remarkable. I assumed he was talking to me because he was interested in the USA swimming program where she swam, the one I was President of at the time. However, after a few minutes, the conversation turned into something much different. He began talking about kids who play just one sport, and how I was setting my daughter up for injury and failure. Because he didn’t know me (or take the time to get to know me), he was unaware that my daughter had played T-ball, field hockey and had taken a combination of karate and ju-jitsu classes for five years, not to mention the voice lessons. He didn’t know that after trying all of those things, she came to me and said that swimming was what she really loved and that she wanted to focus on that more intensely. It was especially surprising to me, because at the time, she wasn’t very good at it. I was impressed with her desire to get better and her obvious passion for a sport she loved, despite not having had much success.
I spent that summer, and many after it, listening to parents whose kids did not swim year-round making excuses for why their kids weren’t as fast as my kid. I don’t know why they felt such a compulsion to explain this to me. I certainly wasn’t concerned with what their child was or was not doing; unlike them, I wasn’t interested in making comparisons. The nice thing about swimming is that there are times achieved at each meet, so our daughter was only comparing her performance to her prior performances. And she liked what was happening as she watched her times continue to drop. I made it a point to avoid this dad and others like him. I call them the compare/contrast parents. They are constantly holding up their child and anyone who competes against them. They are constantly looking for all the ways their child is better, and all the ways they can get the edge for their kid. When they find one thing that someone else is better at than their child, then it’s excuse-making time. It’s time to cherry-pick an article or two that supports their viewpoint and puts others down to make themselves feel better. It must be exhausting to live that way, which is why I don’t.
Enter the Facebook article re-posts accompanied by stern warnings for parents of single-sport kids, of course from the parents whose kids play multiple sports. A rudimentary chart began circulating on Facebook regarding Ohio State’s football recruits. The number of players on the team who played multiple sports: 42; the number who were one sport only: 5. I guess this is supposed to send me a message that if I want my daughter to play football for Ohio State, I better sign her up quickly for a bunch of other sports. I see this every couple months, the onslaught of negativity at kids (and their oh-so-naive parents) who focus on one sport earlier than others. I get it; there are only so many sports scholarships out there. All of our kids are competing for them, I guess, if that’s your focus already, when your kids are still in elementary and middle school (eye roll). Here’s the thing about our family: while my daughter loves to swim and has expressed that she would possibly like to swim in college, we did not engage her in year-round swimming at the age of 9 so that we could start her on the road to a swimming scholarship. If she gets one some day, that would be wonderful; and I’m sure we’ll all be very pleased. However, that is not, nor has it ever been, our focus with her. Our focus has been on enabling our daughter to achieve at the level she wants to, in a sport that she loves.
All of these articles and re-posts make the same faulty assumption, that parents who support their child specializing in one sport expect scholarships because of it, and force their child into specialization for this very reason. This is a completely false notion and writers of these articles, and all the parents who post them, should stop making assumptions about parental intent. Many things can change from the time a child is elementary/middle school aged to high school, when coaches are actually starting to look at your swimmer. There are a lot of swimmers who peak at age 12 or younger. Performance levels as a “10 and under wonder” do not translate into indications of future success, which is why we have always tried to stay level-headed about swimming, our daughter’s achieved times, and what that might mean for her future. The truth is, what she’s doing now, or what she did years ago, means next to nothing when it comes to her future swimming. She swims because she loves to swim; she has zero interest in playing other sports right now. And although other parents clearly feel very strongly about our daughter’s choice, her choice is perfectly ok.
Swimming has done wonderful things for our daughters. It has allowed them to get into crazy good shape; their endurance is unreal. They have learned about the importance of commitment, attention to detail/technique; and we strongly feel that it’s made both of our girls into very focused students as well. They’ve learned time management and study skills because they work around their swimming/school schedule. In addition, swimming has had a tremendous influence on our younger daughter’s health. A year ago, doctors thought she may have early onset scoliosis. Because I went through the 6-month checkups myself as a kid, I wanted to do something different for my daughter, to see if we could avoid future treatment. After 6 months of seeking help from a PT friend of ours, and having those exercises reinforced during her dry land training at her swim club, and through her in-water practice, the curve in her spine went from almost 9 degrees to less than 5, a number not even considered scoliosis. The specialist at Shriner’s was shocked into complete silence as he compared the two x-rays, before quizzically wanting to know what we were doing. When we told him about her swimming and dry land training, he was shocked and impressed, and told us to keep on doing what we’re doing. It turns out that swimming may save her from the dreaded 6-month checkups for a crooked spine.
Most of the articles warning against single sport specialization point to burn-out and overuse injuries, which is certainly a major concern if your child is a pitcher or a quarterback, using the one same explosive motion all the time, every day, year after year. Swimming is a very symmetrical sport, and a life-long sport with good reason. Have you ever checked out the lap lanes at your local gym? They’re loaded with people who’ve been swimming for decades. A couple articles have pointed out that swimming is quite different from other sports when it comes to specialization in several ways. One of them, “Sport Specialization at a Young Age: Is Swimming Different?” by Dr. Rod Havriluk, Ph.D. states the following:
“The most obvious difference between swimming and other sports is the performance environment. Most sports are land-based, while swimming is performed in the water. Natural human movements (like running, jumping, and throwing) that are applicable to most land-based sports are ineffective in the water. While diversification offers practice on similar skills under different sport conditions, these skills are counterproductive for swimming. Humans cannot rely on innate movement patterns to achieve an expert skill level in swimming. Swimming skills must be learned and the age at which an athlete specializes must be considered.
Most land-based ball sports require movement skills in many directions using varying amounts of range of motion at each joint. Practice for a secondary sport may even train an athlete in a select skill better than the primary sport. For example, practice anticipating and reacting to an opposing player in basketball may help develop similar skills in football. Swimming, however, requires, repetition of the same effective movement sequence on every stroke cycle. Swimming strokes are generally not even remotely replicated in other sports, and certainly not in the water.”
A year ago, my oldest missed a bunch of practices heading into a big meet due to illness. She did not have a good meet; every stroke seemed “off.” Her coach talked to us about swimmers sometimes “losing their feel of the water” when out for extended periods of time. The more practices she attends, the better her feel for the water has been. Non-swimmers won’t understand this concept, but for any swimmer/coach, they know exactly what it means when discussing whether a swimmer has a feel for the water or not. Endurance also has something to do with the reason many swimmers choose to stick with the sport year-round. After even a two-week break, many swimmers have to fight to get back to the level they were at only weeks ago. Those initial practices at the beginning of the season are always brutal for that very reason. It’s also the reason that many swimmers choose to stay in the water. Another key difference when it comes to swimming versus other land-sports is the flexibility required to be effective at the sport of swimming.
“For example, an effective arm recovery in freestyle and butterfly utilizes the full range of motion at the shoulder joint. A young swimmer who learns to use this range can retain it as he/she grows. However, swimmers will not naturally use their full range of motion without considerable quality practice.
In contrast, swimmers who wait until the teenage years to specialize may already have a reduced range of motion at the shoulder, making it far more difficult to master technique elements like the arm recovery in free and fly” (Havriluk).
And here’s something else to consider: “In addition, young teenagers who have not yet specialized may not be very competitive. Less competitive swimmers often have fewer opportunities as far as training time, contact with more skilled coaches, and access to advanced technology. A delay in specialization can present substantial obstacles to ever achieving expert level skills” (Havriluk). I saw this during the first year my daughter swam competitively, before she got involved in club swimming. A “back of the pack” swimmer, the attention that she got was minimal. With 20 kids per lane, how could you blame the coaches for not correcting every technique problem they saw? They simply didn’t have the means to do so. My daughter attended practice regularly, but constantly reinforcing the same bad habits because you don’t know the best techniques isn’t doing you a whole lot of good. Moving to a specialized program, with a more manageable number of kids per lane and a better coach:swimmer ratio made all the difference for her. Choosing to focus on swimming exclusively gave her more free time at home to just be a kid when she wasn’t swimming, riding her bike, reading good books, etc. It killed me when she wanted to quit karate/ju-jitsu and focus just on swimming, but being over-scheduled with too many activities/sports for the sake of diversification and not allowing kids to get proper rest isn’t beneficial either.
Dr. Havriluk concludes with this final statement: “A program that optimizes the quality (emphasis mine, not his) of instruction can offer the advantages of specialization at an early age without the negative consequences.” It’s a sentiment expressed by more than one expert, the idea of quality instruction making all the difference. In the journal article, “Practice Makes Perfect and Other Curricular Myths in the Sport Specialization Debate,” author Jody Brylinsky provides a wealth of evidence that agrees with this concept. “It is not the specialization or diverse sport-training experience that is critical, but the type of training and instruction provided in any training context” (Brylinsky). This concept makes a lot of sense. I have frequently heard of swimmers destroying their shoulders at a young age. But when you couple these swimmers with a steady stint with a coach who’s had zero recent education, who is still pulling work-outs from his memories of three decades ago and killing kids with “junk yardage,” it’s not all that surprising. Call it an overuse injury if you want, but one could easily argue that many of these types of injuries happen because of by sub-par coaching.
There are plenty of coaches out there whose focus is on winning right now, who coach more from ego than they do from the desire to see athletes succeed long-term. I’ve seen them first-hand and avoid them at all costs.These are the ones you want to avoid, especially if your child has chosen to specialize. “Sport skill instruction and sport training that focus on long-term athlete development provide the cumulative advantage to nurture talent, regardless of the training context in which it is offered (Brylinsky). The goal then, becomes placing your young athlete in capable and educated hands. “While multiple-sport participation is presumed to inherently provide a variation in training, this may not always be the case. Many sports require the same physiological demands and use similar training routines” (Brylinsky). The common theme when it comes to avoiding over-use injuries and burnout seems to be an appropriate period of rest, which can be obtained in a singular sport or in a multi-sport environment. Appropriate rest is very important when it comes to athletes of all types. Educated coaches know this. When choosing a program and/or coach for your child, one question to ask them is about their coaching education and whether or not they continue to learn. Coaches who attend conferences, research and move up the levels in ASCA, who try new things at practice and who says things like, “I read an article about. . . ” are the kinds of coaches you want to expose your young athletes to as much as possible. Our oldest daughter started swimming competitively at the age of 8, late by comparison to many of her friends who had been swimming since the age of 5 or 6. The best choice she made (you read that right. . . SHE made the choice), was to ask us to find a private lesson coach to learn proper technique from so she improve. The goal for her was catching up and being competitive, not surpassing everyone and getting a college scholarship. Remember, she was 9 when she made the decision to begin swimming year-round. While I’ve met many parents who fantasize about the idea of college scholarships when their kids are 9, I haven’t met an adolescent yet who has been signed by a college. We tend to be of the level headed swim parent variety: our kids swim because they like to swim, not for the potential freebies they could get down the road.
Although focus on technique is important, especially with a sport like swimming, Brylinsky also stresses the importance of “deliberate play,” defined as “activities regulated by age-adaptive rules controlled by children to maximize enjoyment.” In these types of activities, “children use experimentation of movements without worrying about performance outcomes, fostering an implicit approach to instruction” which can result in “increased retention of new skills, reduced occurrence of reinvestment in complex skills, a heightened sense of competence, and a greater resistance to stress” (Brylinsky). I can think of many activities I’ve seen my swimmer girls do at practice (and at meets) that would fit into these categories, working on achieving negative splits being just one of them. “However, counting on diverse sport opportunities to naturally provide “deliberate play” or “implicit instruction” would be a mistake. Just changing the sport context does not create these useful instructional techniques;” and “Diverse sport experiences will not necessarily produce these learning environments any more than sport specialization prohibits them” (Brylinsky). Again, this relates directly back to the education and skill of your child’s coach. “It would be a mistake to assume that diverse sports opportunities will provide more problem-solving experiences for athletes than specialized single-sport training. Highly qualified coaches will be able to provide an abundance of meaningful practice drills that maximize active participatory-learning in either context. Unqualified coaches, even in a diverse sport environment, may have limited ability to develop an interactive practice or facilitate athlete-led error detection and correction” (Brylinsky). This is one of the things I have always appreciated about USA Swimming, the many opportunities the organization gives for coaches to learn more, via online education, regional conferences and through mentoring programs.
Specialization vs. multi-sport participation seems to be the new parental debate; but it doesn’t have to be. Parents of kids who play multiple sports need to stop making the following assumptions: kids specialize for scholarships, kids specialize because of coach/parent demands. While these assumptions may be accurate for some athletes who specialize, none of these apply to our family, and many other swim families I know. Sometimes, there’s just a kid who loves a sport, and wants to do just that sport. It’s as simple as that. And while I guess I should appreciate the multi-sport participant’s parents for wanting to look out for me and mine, we’re completely comfortable making our own decisions regarding our family, just as I’m sure they’re comfortable making decisions for theirs. People don’t fit into prescribed little categories; and perhaps everyone should try being less judgmental. “The lessons to be learned, however, lie in what the dialogue tells us about the need to focus on quality training and instruction in either sport setting” (Brylinsky). Does your child have high quality coaches in all four sports they play? It’s something to think about.
And if your focus is on your child achieving elite status in their sport of choice, there’s another factor that seems to set apart those who go on to elite status from those who don’t. “When one considers in addition the prerequisite motivation necessary to engage in deliberate practice every day for years and decades, where most children and adolescents of similar age engage in play and leisure, the real constraints on the acquisition of expert performance become apparent. The commitment to deliberate practice distinguishes the expert performer from the vast majority of children and adults who seem to have remarkable difficulty meeting the much lower demands on practice in schools, adult education and physical exercise programs” (Ericsson, Tesch-Romer). Achieving elite status in a sport can not be boiled down to doing just any one thing. It’s a combination of things that make athletes successful: genetics, commitment, motivation, deliberate practice, stellar coaching, nutrition, proper rest periods, etc. When I think about the successful athletes I know, who have gone on to play their chosen sport in college, one thing stands out about them: they simply love what they do. If playing multiple sports makes your young athlete happy, that’s great. Keep letting them do it. But when a child has made the choice to specialize, perhaps others should learn to respect that too.
“How would your life be different if…You stopped making negative judgmental assumptions about people you encounter? Let today be the day…You look for the good in everyone you meet and respect their journey.” -Steve Mariboli “Life, the Truth, and Being Free”
Brylinsky, Jody. “Practice Makes Perfect and Other Curricular Myths in the Sport Specialization Debate.” Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. 81:8. (2010) 22-25.
Ericsson, K.A. Krampe, R.T., & Tesch-Romer, C. The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100. (1993) 363-406.
Havriluk, Dr. Rod, Ph.D. (2013) Sport Specialization at a Young Age: Is Swimming Different? ASCA Newsletter, 2013 (6) 16.
Filed under: Things that get my gi all in a bunch, Uncategorized
Maybe it’s because when my oldest started swimming, I was already friends with many veteran swim parents. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I never really babied my girls, and have always done my best to teach personal responsibility and independence. Quite possibly, it’s just because I am a level-headed personal without anxiety or mental impairment; but I have never been that crazy 12 & under parent like the scores of them I saw this past weekend and over the past few years. There is a major difference between 13 and over sessions and 12 and under sessions, the main difference being the parents’ level of cray-cray. It’s because I haven’t been that crazy parent, that I can tell you how to avoid becoming one of “those parents.” Because, you see, if I can tell swim parents how to avoid becoming crazy, then perhaps I won’t have to continue to kick you off the pool deck, sometimes multiple times throughout a meet. Here are five things you need to know to avoid being that crazy swim parent:
1. Missing Races: It is 100% inevitable, that the vast majority of kids will either miss their event entirely, or come really close to missing their event at least one time in their swimming careers. Most swimmers who do miss an event, will only do so once. It’s a tough way to learn, but I would venture a guess that most of the kids who miss an event never do so again. I’m going to let you in on a little secret as to the #1 reason that young swimmers miss their events. . . they have helicopter parents who think that it is better for their swimmer to hang out with them in the bleachers/stands, on the side of the deck somewhere, out at the concession stand, or in a hallway outside of the pool area. If your child is old enough to join a swim team, survive at a preschool, or go to elementary school, it is pretty safe to assume that your child will also survive a swim meet where they must sit with their team/coach and avoid talking to you. Allow your swimmer to experience a little independence, even if they’re scared, even if they’re young, even if you’re scared. And if a swimmer misses their event, do not immediately assume that your child has been abducted and has left the building. (True story. Turns out the child was SWIMMING a race in the next heat while the mother was screaming and crying and searching all over the place and accusing anyone and everyone of child abduction.) Don’t be this parent. Take off your propeller hat and sit in the stands like a big girl, unless you want your child living in your basement when they’re 45.
2. The Super Cheerleader: I have this thing where once the first whistle blows, I will yell, “Go ‘Fly Girl'” or “‘Go Sassy’.” It’s sort of a superstition thing. Most swimmers (and their swim parents) have some type of superstition. For example, my oldest will not brush her hair on the day of a morning meet. I used to yell all during the races for my girls, not to the point where those around me wanted to kill me, but enough to make me feel like my words were pushing them a little faster. Then I asked my oldest if she ever heard me when I was yelling for her. Her answer? “Well, when I’m swimming breast stroke, all I really hear is ‘ahh’ pause ‘ahh’ pause.” That cemented it for me. Unless the race is SUPER close and I am absolutely CERTAIN that only my cheering will get her to the wall first, I pretty much keep quiet. (Those of you who were seated near me when Fly Girl took 1st by a ridiculously small margin at a big meet last March, shhh. That never even happened.)
There is a woman in my previous LSC who is notorious for being the most obnoxious parent in the stands. Her husband videotapes each race while chewing gum so fast I can’t imitate if I try; and his wife stands and wiggles (think convulsions), while screaming in this shrill, absolutely mind-splitting voice as she CONSTANTLY repeats her son’s name over and over. Once I thought my friend was going to be knocked unconscious, because she also shoots random fists out in the direction she wants him to go in. At the end of the race, she thrusts her elbow back past her hip and screams “Right on SCHEDULE” which makes every parent in a 15 ft radius instantly feel capable of murder. Your child CAN NOT hear you, so watch your volume and PLEASE think of the ears of those surrounding you, especially those right in front of you.
3. Pre-Plan Meet Snacks: I can not tell you how many bags of goldfish crackers I hand-delivered to “starving” children this past weekend at the meet. One man tried to storm right past me, clutching the crackers to his chest, like he was carrying a football past a defense-man. My girls bags are LOADED with snacks, more than they could ever possibly consume. They have peanut butter oatmeal energy bites, granola packets, tons of fruit, usually a sandwich, a water bottle filled to the top with ice and water, and I can count on zero hands the number of times they’ve come asking me to get them snacks during a meet this year. Plan ahead and spare your child the starvation, and the meet marshall the frustration of having to chase you down and ask you to leave. You are not allowed to deliver food on deck. Period.
4. Be a Parent, Not a Coach: There is a reason we shell out good money for swimming programs. It’s because my husband and I are not swim coaches. The girls need instruction from knowledgeable people. We are great at telling them what a wonderful swim they had. We are awesome about shuttling them to and from practices and meets. We volunteer for the swim club and get on board with our team. We do NOT question the coaches. Not ever. At our previous club, we were co-Presidents. I knew our coaches quite well and spoke to them frequently about matters regarding the club. Occasionally I asked their opinion or for their help with something related to swimming. But I knew my role and I played it. I am NOT a coach. Parents of 10 & under swimmers who think they are coaches to their kids are not doing their kids any favors. Choose to be the parent, and leave the coaching up to the professionals. Also, your reading of every swim article and book you can find does not make you a swim coach.
5. Stop Acting Like Your Kid is Going to the Olympics: There is not a single 10 and under swimmer who holds a world record for anything swimming related. Not one of them. How your child swims as a 10 and under swimmer (and frankly, you might as well include 12 & under in this group too, and you could potentially even include 14 & under. . . ) is zero indication of how good your swimmer will be later on. Don’t believe me? See for yourself. Only 11% of Top 16 swimmers as a 10 & under are still ranked by the 17-18 age group. Roughly HALF of the top swimmers develop AFTER their Junior Year in high school. Take a minute and soak that in.
This is now our 6th year involved in swimming and I can not tell you the number of 12 & under swimmers I’ve seen who were really something special at a young age. Almost like magic, many of them turn 13+ and they’re not even swimming anymore. All those young years of examining videotapes, and looking for the edge over other swimmers are absolutely pointless. It’s hard not to get caught up when you see your child performing extremely well and continuing to improve. However, for many, there’s a hard wall coming; and most times, that wall is hardest hit by the parent as they watch their own Olympic stands dreams fizzle out.
When we knew we were moving and were interviewing coaches and looking for a new swim club, something one of the coaches said struck us both. A top coach in USA Swimming whose club is consistently ranked among the best in the country, had some insight on 12 & under girls. He said that even the worst coach can take a 12 & under female swimmer and “wring her out,” meaning that girls this age will continue to do what they’re asked to do without question. You can drive them into the ground with extra practices and a push for more and more yardage. You can add on dry land and start hitting weights and you’ll see rapid fire improvement. You’ll feel you’re on the right course and so will your swimmer. . . until they hit the inevitable wall. They reach a point of complete and utter physical and mental exhaustion after years of being the “yes” girl. Don’t be tempted by coaches who claim they can make your 12 & under a national champion. Don’t buy into every specialized program made just for swimmers, because it’s really the money they’re looking for; and like this coach told us, any coach can wring out a 12 & under girl. But she’ll have little chance of a future in swimming. And wouldn’t it be a shame to waste all that time and energy for such a short career that no one will even remember? There are many Olympic swimmers who didn’t start swimming until well beyond the 12 & under window. Starting young and being a phenom at an early age is not an indication of future success; but it could be an indication of future injury and major burnout. Don’t be that parent.
There you have it. Take it or leave it. If you’re one of those parents, you’re likely to leave it. But perhaps I can catch some of you newbies and guide you down the path that won’t make veteran swim parents want to wring your neck. You’re welcome.
Filed under: Mental Strain for Mama, Things that get my gi all in a bunch
I taught for five years, so I never wanted to be THAT parent. . . the complaining one. But lately, my concerns feel like they’re bubbling over, under pressure, to the point of explosion. In fact, it’s getting so bad that I, the person who swore I would NEVER consider it, am actually starting to research home-schooling and cyber schooling. Former public school teachers don’t usually go there. This one is about ready to go directly there.
Let’s start with the gym teacher. He’s the typical male middle school gym teacher, also the head football coach. I’m told by many parents that my kid just needs to get through his units. I had hoped for better than that. We pay a lot of school taxes. He’s the type of coach from the Grease movie, the one who drives the golf cart around sitting on his unfit butt, while he yells at the kids to do things their growing bodies shouldn’t be doing. Swim Girl has had to suffer through her second year of him this year. Last year, she ended up with a knee injury and months of physical therapy. Mind you, her injury didn’t result from her year-round swimming, but rather from gym class. Take a second to chew on that.
This year, this “teacher” (I use the term lightly) has had them doing a muscle “endurance” unit involving resistance bands. That’s all fine and good if the bands are the proper resistance and if he’s insuring that the kids are using proper form. However, neither of those two things are happening. This week, just days before her LSC Elite Meet, she has a giant knot in her shoulder muscle, resulting from his carelessness and lack of proper instruction and supervision. Both her coach and her PT were shocked at the obvious trauma to the muscle.
I don’t EVER do this, but today I wrote an email to him. I was extremely polite, and told him I would like her to avoid doing any exercises that could further injure her shoulder until . I told him that both her swim coaches and her trainer/PT told her she has a knot in her muscle and that she should avoid aggravating it any further. I offered to send in a lighter resistance band for her if he doesn’t have a light enough one. I avoided chastising him about the fact that when my daughter asked him for a study guide today, he barked at her “get it later” despite the fact that she was in gym class right THEN; and asking for a study guide would imply that she actually cares about learning and would like to study. The reply I got from him makes my freaking blood boil. There is absolutely ZERO concern for her health and well-being from her so-called “wellness” teacher. There was nothing other than a terse response, a statement to tell me that “the unit is now over” (because I guess that’s supposed to make me feel better), and then incorrect usage of the word “suffice.”I don’t know which part annoys me more. I was an English teacher; it’s probably the “suffice” part.
In the past month, my daughter has waited almost a month each time she takes a math test to get her grade back. It’s difficult to learn from your mistakes when they’re not even fresh in your head anymore. This, mind you, is AFTER Mr. BBM and I have had a conference with him. Another teacher has spent class time talking about murderers and rapists and how if they get a good lawyer, they’ll likely get off and get away with it. Nice. And yet another teacher has told her about how her father held a gun to her baby sister’s head when she was a kid. Because that is totally school appropriate. I’d LOVE to call them all out on all of this stuff, but I also know what that could mean for how my kid is treated the rest of the year. I have no expectation of professionalism when these are the daily occurrences.
I live in the district that has the highest test scores in the county, that does quite well when compared to other schools in the state and country; and here I am, seriously considering pulling my kid out of school. I was (and am with Sassy) so happy with the elementary school. I was even happy with the first year of Middle School. Is this year just a fluke? Do we just have “to get through it”? Will it get better? I thought being in the Gifted program would change things a bit. I thought she would be academically challenged. Instead she has read over 1400 pages this quarter (none of it at home) because she finishes everything early in school and has nothing to do.
The only thing holding me back from pulling her now is her art teacher, who happens to be amazing. But it’s becoming more and more difficult to ignore the inappropriate things that are happening in her school. I send my 12-year-old into their care every day; and I do not appreciate them discussing things in class that I would never consider discussing in front of her at home. If you’ve decided to home school or cyber school, I want to hear from you, and I want to hear all about it.
Filed under: Growing Pains, Things that get my gi all in a bunch, Uncategorized
On Sunday, I bought Swim Girl a new dress for her National Junior Honor Society induction. She tried on a bunch of dresses and chose the one she liked.
Today, she put the dress on and took a good look at herself in the mirror. I don’t know what happened between Sunday and today, but whatever it was, wasn’t good. She started complaining about how ugly she looked, how everyone would make fun of her. The dress, a simple shift dress in greens and blues, looked pretty on her. She looked exactly like a 12-year old girl should look. . . her age. She felt it was too loose around the waist and wanted something to tie around the dress. The waist-tie to her white sweater was nowhere to be found, so with five minutes until we needed to leave, I ran upstairs and searched my closet for something that might work. I found a sweater that tied in the front and brought it down to her. I also grabbed a bunch of pretty barrettes that matched the dress, bought at Charming Charlie’s a while ago.
I helped her fix the sweater and put a carefully placed barrette in her hair. She stood in front of the mirror and said, “I’m so ugly.” She attempted to rip the barrette out but I insisted she wear it. We told her to put her chin up and be happy. This was going to be a big night for her! She moped all the way to school.
We arrived at the school, grabbed a program and found seats. Just as I was settling in, Mr. BBM says, “She’s not in here. She’s not in the program.” I scanned it myself and found her nowhere. Another Mom suggested that maybe she was put with the wrong grade. She wasn’t. I told Mr. BBM he better go tell someone. I imagined them reading names out of the program and my poor Swim Girl standing there, never being called.
Mr. BBM found the principal, told him and he was immediately off to tell the presenters to add her name. After he came back, he announced that a couple kids had been left out of the program, but that they would be printing new ones for all of us tomorrow. He speculated that these kids had turned their papers in late. I know Swim Girl turned it in just two days after her acceptance, a week before the due date.
The ceremony began and the NJHS officers were the main presenters. When it was time to read the names of the 6th graders, they called the names so quickly that the kids were practically running across the stage. When they said Swim Girl’s name, they butchered her last name beyond recognition. It’s not that hard of a last name. It’s five letters for God’s sake.
She made her way across the stage, shook the officer’s hand and waited in front of her guidance counselor for her certificate. He scrambled for a bit, looking through the pile as the presenters continued to rattle through names at warp speed. Eventually he told her he didn’t have one for her and she left the stage empty-handed. I could tell she was devastated. The girl should not ever play poker.
I felt a knot in the back of my throat. My Mom looked like she was going to cry, and I just wanted to stand up and scream that it’s just not fair.
I’m sick of my girl getting the short end of the stick. I’m sick of her being treated like a door mat by some of her supposed friends, and I’m incredulous that the school where she is subjected to snide comments by rude kids is now also the school that called her onto stage, only to send her away with nothing.
When the ceremony was over, one of my good friends came to talk to me and to hug Swim Girl. She had watched it like everyone else. She whispered something in Swim Girl’s ear which prompted a feeble attempt at a smile. As we stood there and I had to start chasing Little Man, the guidance counselor came over and began apologizing to my friend, thinking she was Swim Girl’s Mom. My friend pointed out his mistake and he turned to apologize to me. He said she’d have her certificate tomorrow morning, and I nodded and said “thanks.” I hope my non-poker face told him the whole story. I’m not happy. It’s an oversight that never should have happened, especially when you’re dealing with the already fragile psyche of a middle school girl who already feels like an outsider, the forgotten child, the ignored friend. He couldn’t have picked a worse time or kid to forget.
I’d like to tell them exactly what I think about her being forgotten. I’d like to scream, yell, and let them know how irritated and disappointed I am that they did this to my daughter. But what’s done is already done. Nothing can take away what happened, or how she felt; and there’s nothing that’s going to make it better.
I encouraged her to run for an officer position within the NJHS. That way, she can help to insure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen to anyone else. But right now, her confidence is completely shattered, and that’s not going to happen unless we figure out some way to repair it.
Swim Girl has been begging me to home school her the entire year. I’ve told her “no,” on many occasions and expressed to her how important it is to be part of the school, how she wouldn’t have access to her amazing art teacher, or events like this. I just lost Exhibit B in my case for her staying there. Instead of being a night to remember, it’s one she’d like to forget.
I’ve watched people in volunteer leadership roles get chewed up and spit out. It happens time and time again, especially where I live, where people are not known for being super friendly. I’ve seen people resort to absolute stupidity, taking their own personal feelings about issues, and getting their children involved. A couple years ago, a good family friend of ours was President of a local swimming organization. He is a good man and always the diplomat. I listened as kids, who had obviously heard negative things from their parents, said awful things about him in front of his own kids. I couldn’t believe how nasty people could be and how low they could go.
But now I’m seeing it for myself.
This blog has had a self-imposed gag order on it for a long time. Too many people read it and know about it, and frankly, if I can’t write honestly, then there’s just no point in writing. If I have to avoid writing about the things I really want to write about, then why bother? But I’m done feeling that way.
A month ago, the board of the swimming organization I’m co-President of, made a business decision to better the club that a small minority didn’t agree with. The decision was made thoughtfully, not arbitrarily, or on a whim. Since then, the VOLUNTEER board, who spends countless hours daily making sure this club runs properly, grows and thrives (not just exists), has been attacked on a personal level. We’ve had one individual send nasty emails; we’ve had to deal with confrontations that crossed the line of appropriateness. Our friends have been confronted and attacked for supporting our business decision. And worst of all, we’ve seen our children become involved in the ridiculousness of it all.
Every once in a while, our coaches will give the kids an opportunity to end practice early. They choose one swimmer (last week, Swim Girl was chosen because her birthday is this month) to swim a 50 sprint of the coaches choice. They tell the swimmer that they have to swim their 50 in less than however many seconds the coaches decide. If the swimmer does so, practice gets out a couple minutes early. If not, they don’t. Swim Girl was chosen to swim a 50 fly and all the other swimmers are supposed to cheer that person on. I sat in the bleachers and watched as my daughter dove into the water and swam as fast as she possibly could. I couldn’t help but notice how quiet it was in the natatorium. One girl, whose mother has made it her mission to make our business decision as personal as possible, stood on the side of the pool with her arms crossed, refusing to cheer. I watched as she involved the girl standing beside her too, silent, as my daughter swam for all of them to end practice early. When the 50 sprint was over, Swim Girl had met the required time; but the coaches weren’t satisfied due to the blatantly obvious lack of camaraderie among those on deck. Practice continued. As the coaches reprimanded the swimmers about it, I couldn’t help but notice the look on the face of Swim Girl. She’s an 11-year old who swam her third best time ever in the 50 fly in an effort to end practice for all. She did her part; why couldn’t those girls do theirs?
When the coaches made one of the silent girls swim a 50 sprint immediately after, my daughter stood on the edge of the pool, cheering loudly the whole time, despite the fact that she knew the favor had not been returned. That is the kind of daughter I have raised.
Last night, I sat cuddled on the sofa with Little Man and Sassy. We were watching an intense episode of “The Backyardigans” when Sassy said, “There were some moms saying mean things about you in the locker room last night.” I sat bolt upright. “What are you talking about?” I asked her.
“I was in the showers and was talking to my friend. I was telling her that my Mom taught me how to say a bad word in French.” (The “bad word” she’s referring to is derriere, hardly a felony to know how to say “butt” in French; however, to her, it’s a bad word.”) That’s when a Mom standing at the next shower made it a point to say loudly to another mother, and directly in front of my daughter, “The person who taught her that is mean and bad.”
Sassy said she didn’t say another word. She said she wanted to defend me, but her teacher taught her that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, you don’t say it.”
What struck me then was this: my 7-year old has better manners than a grown woman.
We had a long talk about how this lady (described in vivid detail so I know EXACTLY who she is) could have assumed Sassy knew a word much worse than “butt,” and how “butt” is not a bad word. It’s actually just a body part. We also talked about how rude it was for this woman to interject herself into Sassy’s private conversation with her friend; and how inappropriate it is to say anything when you don’t know the whole story. I assured her that I am not a “bad” or “mean” person because she knows how to say a body part in French because of me, and thanked her for telling me about it. It took her 24 hours to tell me, because she was upset about it. She got all teared up as she was telling me.
Perhaps the most bothersome part of this incident is that we have done many personal favors for this woman over the past two years. Clearly, she must have forgotten about the constant allowed late payments that Mr. BBM and I personally approved and arranged. It really makes you want to help out the next person. Clearly, I am a “bad” and “mean” person.
I’ve had some awful things said to me, about me and emailed to me in the past few weeks; but involving my children because you are unhappy with a business decision that four grown adults made on behalf of a swimming club that’s been doing a pretty good job of improving and operating for the past two years, in large part because of these four individuals, crosses the line.
I can hold my own in a verbal battle, but I have chosen to take the high road the last few weeks. I have let the insults roll off my back, because I know the board has the club’s best interests in mind. What I didn’t know, was how ridiculously low some people would stoop.
Swim Girl will frequently tell me about middle school drama and how crazy some of the girls act sometimes. Last week she said she couldn’t wait until she was out of school. I had to break the news to her that the drama and craziness never really ends. Actually, it just gets worse and people get nastier. It is so difficult to take the “high road” and to teach your kids to do the same when there are so few other people doing that as well. But it’s what is right and I’ll continue to do it. I just wish there was a way to make myself and my kids bullet-proof along the way.