Last heat, last place …

Gretchen - Naperville, Illinois
Entered on June 29, 2007

I believe in last place. So there I am this summer—trapped in my own sort of purgatory of motherhood. I have two sons, six and seven years old, neither of whom are particularly athletic and a husband who spent his high school years on the golf team… Not so easy when you live in the thick of the Midwest, surrounded by athletes as young as four, with dreams of being on multiple traveling teams by elementary school.

While we have learned that trying a little-of-this and a little-of-that works best for us, and convinced ourselves that this appetizer sampler lifestyle would help our kids find their “thing”, it has definitely separated us from the main stream. Still, when I am at these events, cheering, I have this flashback from my single days. My friends and I, at a Friday night happy hour, sipping some expensive fruity drink, making fun of “soccer moms,” with their bumper stickers, sweatshirts and collapsible chairs. Now? I own one of those chairs.

This summer, I was thrilled that my boys (who already love to swim) wanted to be on the swim team. Being a swimmer from a family of swimmers—I knew what we were getting into. Five hours at a meet for two, maybe three events a piece, each of which would entail one lap across the pool. But I must confess, I thought, down deep, that this might be their “thing” … Even after the first meet of the season. My youngest son almost drown doing the backstroke, the spectators went silent, watching with anticipation—ready to dive in and get him as he would sink, swim, sink again, inching himself towards the end of the lane. I still had hopes. He made it, 25 yards, 1:52.01 flat.

The summer rolled along, finally, the last meet was upon us. My kids had shown little progress despite the daily swim practice and three meets per week. It was all good, until my youngest son told his coach that he had to swim backstroke, he had to try it again. He went on that he didn’t care if he was in the last heat (with the slow swimmers) and came in last place again. His coach applauded his enthusiasm, and put him in the event. He did it, swam in the last heat, and came in last place. Managing to knock five seconds of his original time, he jumped out of the pool, proud and glowing. I was suddenly reminded our finish lines are all different. And as a writer, I have collected up enough rejection slips to wallpaper my living room (and dining room), but it was my six year old who reminded me not to give up—last place is merely a state of mind.