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The Motherlode: Dolphin magic

September 26, 2018

OK, so last week I wrote from the trenches of trying to figure out which after-school activities my children might choose this year. In brief, we try everything, they “hate” everything, and everyone is miserable.

“Mom, I don’t like water polo, but if you make me do it, I will go,” my 10-year-old Louie told me on Sunday. He made clear he was making a great sacrifice for me.

“Happy?” my husband Ian chimed in, unhelpfully.

Why are we doing this?

“You have to keep trying. Every year is different. In first grade they might hate ice hockey, but at second grade they may just love it. Interests change!” Ian’s college friend informed us cheerfully. He is from Darien, if you know what I mean.

OK, so:

a) You cannot start ice hockey in second grade in these parts unless you want to be ice road kill. Everyone starts at age 2 or 3, so if you kid wobbles onto the ice at age 8, it isn’t pretty.

b) I will not do the ice hockey travel thing — this weekend in Ottawa, next weekend in Quebec, God knows where after that. Saskatchewan? I will just not do it. I have a life separate from my children … wait — do I?

c) And lastly, everyone in my family “hates” ice hockey. Like everything else.

But I worry. “Yes, just give up if you don’t like it, kids. Just like life!” we seem to be telling them. How will they grow up if we raise them with that can-quit attitude?

And then something happened. There are these moments when you are a parent, often right when you are in a parenting nightmare. I admit these moments are rare and fleeting, but they do happen. And one of them took place at a YWCA swim team tryout three weeks ago.

Some background on swimming and our family. We moved out to Greenwich with a toddler, a baby and a baby-on-the-way. The house we bought had an in-ground swimming pool — which was something we hadn’t wanted. But the house was great and the price was right, so we said yes.

I had heard all the horror stories about children drowning in pools, and I was terrified. The enormous gate that surrounded the pool was not enough. I made Ian buy these alarms that went off every time the water rippled, the idea being they would alert you to a child falling in the pool. We quickly discovered those blaring alarms went off every time there was a slight breeze across the water.

We considered early-age swim lessons. I had heard about some very scary man who you pay hundreds of dollars to literally throw your baby in a pool. This supposedly allows the baby’s “instinctual” swimming ability to emerge, as the infant struggles to the surface of the water and you stand by having a heart attack. After all, the argument goes, swimming is exactly what the baby has been doing for the last nine months in your womb.

Nope. Not doing it.

So I trundled my infant/toddler brood off to the Doral Arrowwood pool to take lessons with this legendary woman named Gina. Now if you want to maximize your suffering as a mother, I highly suggest you try bundling three toddlers into winter gear, herding them through the snow, undressing and putting them in a pool — only to finish up half an hour later (and $100 poorer) by showering all three, bundling them back up, leading them back into the snow and driving them home.

Try it. Not fun.

But Gina taught my kids to swim. She even taught them to like it. All three tots became water lovers, and soon all three could paddle to the side of a pool without drowning. My job here was done.

“What about stroke development?” my husband asked.

Yeah, you try the bundling, herding, dressing, snow thing, pal. You’ll have a stroke. Let’s see how much you care about the butterfly then.

But then my 10-year-old Selma tried out for the Greenwich Dolphins, the YWCA’s swim team, and everything changed.

The tryouts were a last-minute decision. I literally found the dates on my desk the very last day they were taking place. I must have printed them in the lofty days of June, when I dreamed of teaching all three children stroke development in all our downtime during the summer. Ha!

So off we raced to “swim team tryouts,” I calmly explained to my kids, all of whom announced (you guessed it) they “hated” swimming.

I knew the Dolphins as a well-regarded team, but when my children awaited their turn by the pool I realized their adorable beach bathing suits looked terribly out of place among all the tiny Speedos, goggles and bathing caps. Parents were not allowed by the pool, so we all watched from a balcony. Selma looked up and glared at me — who knew her adorable tutu bikini would look at of place?

The YWCA is very egalitarian in their approach to Dolphins. Anyone can try out, no matter what the skill level. Enter my youngest son, George, who did some form of ninja thing under water until a coach asked him to swim “freestyle,” at which point George became a major source of concern on the parent balcony above.

“Claire, are you sure he is OK?” my friend whispered. “He looks like he is going to drown.”

And then it was Selma’s turn.

OK, I know parents who brag and it’s awful. Especially the kind who purposely play down their top-ranking Harvard squash champion to appear humble. So let me be clear: Selma crushed it, especially backstroke. She was fast and sleek, and I felt almost dizzy as I watched two coaches with clipboards smiling at each other as they watched her swim by.

And then suddenly there were tears in my eyes. After all, I swam for the Brooklyn Sea Hawks from the age of 8 — had I forgotten? And my father, always my best teacher and biggest fan, was top of the heap for breast stroke at Princeton. He is now gone but those long, cold weekend swim meets came rushing back, complete with Dad and his beaming smile and helpful tips on racing.

Selma swimming was like a tribute to him, or a tie to a past I had forgotten. Where had she learned to swim like that? There was magic winking at me in every stroke she took.

Selma is now a Dolphin. We are still getting used to the schedule, as well as all the hyper-competitive “swim moms.”

“Yes well, she’s a little young for Princeton as of yet, Claire,” coach Nick reminded me yesterday in good humor.

Nevertheless, off Selma swims regardless of this crazy world that surrounds her. Somehow my father is in her every wake, along with my 8-year-old self, cheering from some other dimension of time and space.

And you know what? She doesn’t hate it.

Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films.

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