Monday, July 28, 2014
Best Boys (And Their Melty Mom)
Prior to last year, the boys' summer swim team had won the city's country club league championship something like 43 years running.
Last year, a few teams that were struggling with numbers asked to merge, and bring in "another small Fort Worth country club" to further augment their team size.
We (naturally) assumed that they would bring in - well, the only club in Fort Worth that wasn't already in the league.
Instead, we were surprised when a team from outside of Fort Worth showed up. A not-small team. A huge team, if we're being technical, the composition of which almost entirely corresponded to the membership of a select swim team that the boys compete against in the regular season.
Not so surprisingly, we lost to the "super team."
Notwithstanding that we had prepared the kids for that outcome, they were devastated. No one wants to be on the team that lets the streak drop - certainly not a streak four decades long. Every end-of-the-year swim banquet, since time immemorial, has begun with the parade of championship banners. Some years, depending on camp and vacation schedules, we wouldn't have enough kids to carry all of the banners. The kids would get a chuckle out of that.
Such a silly, inconsequential thing - a winning streak in a country club swim league. And yet: devastated.
Actually, factually, enthusiasm was flagging before that season, but the loss (and league realignment - Mega-Team stayed around of their own accord) didn't help. A bunch of kids who hadn't settled on swimming as a forever sport elected to drop it from their repertoire in favor of other activities. Others who had settled on swimming as "their" sport opted to take the summer off. Several families took their respective shows on the road and transferred to other summer leagues. Our remaining team: a shadow of its former self.
So, going into last Thursday's final, the deck was stacked against us. After Wednesday night's 8-and-under meet, we were in third place out of six teams. In years past, the "little kids" were our cushion: even if our bigger kids stumbled, we still won on total points based on the performance of the farm club the night before. Not much of a farm club these days, and our big kids were unlikely to make up the deficit. Our best swimmer (I call him "Mini Phelps"- six-foot-three before he was thirteen!) had qualified for the state meet in Austin, which happened to fall on the same night. His little brother made the trip with him, leaving us with twelve swimmers.
The not-small, not-actually-in-Fort Worth team - now competing on their own - dwarfed our team in sheer number of competitors, and other teams had us on numbers as well. Our kids noticed, and we - all of the parents - said what needed to be said: eras end. Teams change. You can't define yourself by what came before, or allow your life to be dominated by forces that you can't control. All you can do is do your best, and, regardless of the outcome, your best will always be good enough.
And then it happened: the paradigm shift. Maybe it was having the pressure of maintaining a streak taken off of their shoulders, but the mood lightened. The kids got loose. It was the most relaxed meet I have ever attended. Little Kid (known for overthinking things and seizing up in the clutch) stayed calm, finished strong in all events, and handily won his heat in butterfly. Other kids stepped up as well - particularly Big Kid, who due to time and attrition is now the elder statesman. This was probably his last meet with the team (although he plans to return as a volunteer coach), and he knew it. He swam the best that I have ever seen him swim, winning first in all events for his age group and shutting out another area swimmer who has, in the past, been the thorn in the side of not just Big Kid but Mini Phelps as well.
And then it was over, and I told the boys (honestly) how proud I was of them. Nothing could make me prouder, I said. And then they started announcing the final team rankings over the PA. Brutal truth: usually, there's a bit of a delay between the end of the meet and that announcement, and although I was by no means sprinting to get the kids away from the pool, had we managed to clear the building before the announcement, I would have been sooooooo okay with that: the parents knew that we started the night in third place and were therefore steeled for a finish of fourth or lower, but the kids had no idea. While I want to raise children who are gracious in defeat, the momma bear in me did not relish the thought of seeing my babies blindsided.
In the end, I didn't get to choose. Here came the numbers. We weren't in sixth, or fifth - or fourth. Mega-Team was in fourth. Huh. We weren't in third, either.
And then there were two - our team and a team with a rather similar name. So when they announced the second place team, you could see the moment of hesitation on the faces of all of our parents: did they really just say the name of the other team?
That means . . . we won? Twelve kids, without one of their captains, facing a pretty significant deficit, and - we WON?
Yup. By nine points, 419-410.
The elation - you have no idea. Not because we won, but because we won under those specific circumstances. For the duration of Big Kid's tenure on the team, and probably for about thirty years before that, the refrain has always been the same: "Well, of course you always win. Anyone could win with that many kids on their roster. It's a numbers game."
But this time - for the first time - that explanation didn't hold water (small pun intended).
Adding to my personal elation: we won under those circumstances with Big Kid at the helm. I was almost crying when I found him, and I'm definitely crying as I type this. All I could do was point at him and mouth, "YOU. This was you."
His response: "No, it was me, and M., and A., and everyone." (This, in front of M.'s parents, who beamed. M. has been on the fence about wanting to continue with swimming. A few minutes before the announcement of the standings, Big Kid took him aside and stated the reasons why M. should consider joining Big Kid's select swim team. His finish was akin to Julia Roberts' "We think you got a lot of potential, Kit De Luca" speech from "Pretty Woman," and just as heartwarming.)
Okay, so now I couldn't be prouder. Except the boys didn't stop there. How did they want to celebrate?
In unison: "Let's rent a movie, pop popcorn and all pile on the couch for a movie night."
Stop it. Seriously, you're killing me. You, the one who towers over me: you are forbidden to go to high school, and graduate, and leave. Neither one of you has permission to age. You must stay just as you are at this moment, because at this moment, you are perfect.
And then they got more perfect.
"We've consulted, and we don't think the movie we want to watch is available on demand or on Red Box. It's kind of old - but we've seen it at Target for, like, five bucks."
"You know 'Airplane!'? The one where the guy wears two pair of glasses and the other guy says, 'I am serious, and don't call me Shirley'?"
STAHHHHHHHHHHHP. First, you demonstrate all sorts of grace under pressure and care and concern for your teammates, then you admit to liking us and wanting to spend time with us, and now you remind us that you have impeccable taste in films?
"I love it when that one dude is handed a report and asked, 'What can you make of this?' and he responds, 'Well, it could be a hat, or a brooch, or a pterodactyl.'"
TRUE STORY: that line was at the crux of one of my favorite high school memories. That RANDOM line . . . that one of my children just quoted, apropos of not much.
We went to Target. We acquired "Airplane!" and its sequel, along with an animated Batman film for old time's sake. We popped popcorn. And I felt a certain kinship with the popcorn butter.
Melted, through and through.