Dan and Phil (or is it Phil and Dan?)

I vaguely remember several months ago Mary telling me about this thing. It was some YouTube people or something.  But it was in Schenectady.

“Go ahead and get some tickets,” I told her, “and we’ll figure it out when it gets closer.”

It got closer.

And closer.

I forgot all about it.

About a week before, Mary said, “Remember that thing?”

I didn’t.

She reminded me.

“I don’t know how we can do it,” I said. “Could you try to sell the tickets?”

The morning of she came to me with the saddest of sad faces. Don’t misunderstand — she didn’t beg. I could see that this was important to her so I came up with a plan. It turns out we’ll-figure-it-out-when-it-gets-closer means that I drive her.

“What is this thing we’re going to?” I asked while driving that night. Mary tried to explain, but I am NOT of the YouTube generation. I don’t understand it. At all.

We arrived in Schenectady, parked the car, and Mary said, “I think we should just follow all the teenage girls.”

So we did.

Truthfully, I still don’t know what it was I went to. Screaming girls? Two guys on stage? The closest analogy I could come up with is Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

I feel asleep during the show. At one point I think they showed a picture of the most disinterested parent, and I was surprised that it wasn’t a picture of me.

But I tried.

And I rewrote “The Things We Do For Love” in honor of that night.

“Hey, Mom, remember when I bought a couple tickets
To hear some YouTube guys putting on a show?
You said that I could go, so I bought two.”
(The things we do for love, the things we do for love)

“Hey, Mom, I need someone to drive me to the show now.
Remember? YouTube guys? Their names are Dan and Phil.”
I looked at Mary’s face and knew this was
A thing I’d do for love (the things we do for love)

Like driving to a show, when you know
It’s a long way to go
And your eyes are drooping ‘cause you’re pretty tired
But you love the teenage girl that’s by your side
At the Proctor girls are squealing
And I get a sinking feeling

Whooo are Phil and Da-an?
How do I stay awake?
Ooh — I’m feeling groggy. Must not doze.

Like driving to a show, when you know
It’s a long way to go
And your eyes are drooping ‘cause you’re pretty tired
But you love the teenage girl that’s by your side —
At the Proctor girls are squealing
And I get a sinking feeling

Ooh — I love my daughter
Ooh — but Dan and Phil?
Ooh — I couldn’t tell you which was which

And so I fell asleep while Dan and Phil were on-stage.
I saw the paint balls and the guy strapped to the wheel,
But I can’t tell you much about the show –
‘twas a thing I did for love (a thing I did for love)

Dan and Phil — photo credit Gage Skidmore, from 2014 VidCon

In case you’re not familiar with the original song —

A Privilege

Yesterday I ran into someone at the pool that I hadn’t seen in years — Bridget‘s father.

Bridget was on the first team that I coached and I still think back on her fondly. In fact, I had just been telling Laurel about Bridget the other day.

Bridget held all her team records with open hands. When Helen was quite young, Bridget told her to go break all those records. It was such a gift, so encouraging. Helen went on to break quite a few of them.

Anyway, Bridget’s father, Mike, asked about my father. I told him that I was staying with my father to take care of him.

“It’s such a privilege, don’t you think?” he asked.

I nodded in agreement.

Those were words I needed to hear.

Sometimes caregiving doesn’t feel like a privilege. It feels more like a chore. When I was home with small children, there were days when I would  look out the window and long for the freedom to go do something, anything besides laundry and cooking and changing diapers and wiping noses.

I used to bring my kids to the gym for a playtime we called “Kiddie-gym.”  The pre-schoolers would climb around on the mats and throw balls and scoot on scooters. The moms would sit and talk.

One day one of the moms talked about trying to find childcare for her twin two-year-olds so she could go back to college for a graduate degree. The mom next to me leaned close and whispered, “After all she went through to have those children, she’s abdicating her responsibility.”

It’s true that the woman with the twins had used in vitro fertilization. It’s true her husband had a good job so she didn’t need to work. But abdication? It seemed like a strong term to describe a mother furthering her education. Abdication was what a king did when he gave up his throne.

My take-away from that conversation, though, was that motherhood was on par with royalty. It was an honor and a privilege to be a mom. On my looking-out-the-window days, longing for something else, I would remind myself of that. I would lean in and embrace the wearisome work because not everyone has that privilege.

This morning a woman complained to me about the child-care hours at the gym.

“They don’t open until like 8:15 AM and they aren’t even open every day,” she said. “What if someone wants to work out before they go to work?”

“Maybe their spouse or significant other can watch the children,” I suggested.

“That discriminates against single moms,” she replied.

“Being a parent involves a lot of sacrifice,” I said, but I could see that she didn’t appreciate my answer.

I was glad for my conversation the previous day about care-giving being a privilege. It reminded me to stop thinking about the things I can’t do, but to appreciate the things that I can.

I can find the Jumble in the newspaper.

I can change the channel to Jeopardy.

I can fix over-easy eggs.

I can help with crossword puzzle clues.

I can drive him to the doctor or to get a haircut.

I can rescue photographs from the garbage.

I can remind him of people’s names.

I can tell him at 3 AM that it’s time to go back to sleep.

I can keep him in the home where he has lived for over 50 years.

Yes, it’s a privilege.

 

J is for Journey

“I ran away once and you didn’t even notice,” one of my children told me accusingly.

It brought back a flood of memories.

I ran away once. Slighted once too often by my siblings, unappreciated by my parents — I knew it was the only thing I could do. So I put a loaf of bread in my backpack, along with a flashlight, a jacket, and a pack of matches, and headed up the hill behind our house.

The first bit was steep and prickly with wild raspberry bushes. I huffed with exertion and didn’t stop to enjoy a single berry.

I hiked past the little spring-house that had been the source of water for the house before my parents dug a well.

Finally I reached a grassy knoll and sat down to rest.

I waited for someone to come looking for me. Surely someone would notice I was gone.

I waited, imagining the shock and the worry. My mother would ask each sibling, “Have you seen Sally?” and the worry would grow.

They would look all around the house and the barns. She’d probably make Peter or Jimmy climb into the hayloft to see if I was there.

But they wouldn’t find me.

The tall grass on the hill was perfect for putting between my thumbs and whistling — but I stopped myself. Someone would hear it. Then they would know where I was.

The grassy knoll, it turned out, was also an ant hill so I moved to a little mossy spot near a tree.

I pulled out my loaf of bread and ate a slice — not because I was hungry, but because I was bored. Plain bread is also boring, I discovered. I wished I had brought a jar of peanut butter. I put the bread away because I knew it would have to last me at least a week.

As I started to stretch out in the moss for a little rest, I nearly placed my hand in a pile of animal droppings. Abruptly I sat up again. Hugging my knees, I started to cry. Surely I was the most unloved child ever.

House with the garden behind it

But down the hill was my house.

And my family.

And my dog.

And our passel of cats.

I climbed to my feet and headed back.

My mother was working in the garden, picking beans or peas.

“I ran away,” I announced to her as I got closer, “and you didn’t even notice.”

She straightened up and looked at me. “You need to be gone more than 20 minutes if you want me to notice,” she said.

And she went back to work.

All that passed through my mind when my own child told me about running away.

I bit my tongue so I wouldn’t repeat my mother’s words.

“I’m sorry,” I said.


Child with suitcase and backpack from Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! by Allan Sherman and Lou Busch, illustrated by Jack E. Davis

Plants from a broken pop-up book

The Record Board

Whenever I go to a pool, my eyes are drawn to the record board.

It’s kind of funny, because I haven’t always been a fan of the record board. Helen still holds over 20 age-group records at the pool in Cooperstown — the earliest from when she was 8 years old, and the latest from when she was 13. Then we moved, and she started racking up high school records in Greene.

Margaret in the middle

A couple of years ago, I caught one of the swimmers in my group staring at the record board in Cooperstown.

“Do you know Helen Zaengle?” she asked.

“I do,” I told her. “She’s my daughter, and she’s Laurel’s sister.”

“Wow,” Margaret said. “She has a lot of records. I’m going to break some of them.”

That was the moment my feelings about the record board changed.

Helen was very good at swimming from a young age. She loved winning races — although there was one time when she asked me why she couldn’t get a rainbow ribbon (the ribbon handed out for participation); all her ribbons were blue.

The record board wasn’t posted at the time, and, quite frankly, I think Helen and I were both unaware of all the records. When the record board went up, part of me felt a little embarrassed because I never sensed that Helen was swimming for the glory of the record board or all the accolades. She swam with the truest sense of the amateur — a love of the sport.

But I worked in the pool these last few years with all those records at my back, and I tried not to look at them. Don’t misunderstand — I am very proud of Helen, but not because she rules the record board. I just think she’s wonderful.

Margaret helped me to see that the records are goals for other swimmers, not to induce pride, but to produce hard work.

Michael Phelps said, “Goals should never be easy,” and Margaret took that to heart. She’s 10 years old now and continues to push herself harder than her peers. She still hasn’t made it to the record board, but I have no doubt that she will.

Laurel swimming breaststroke

Last year, Laurel made it to the record board, by breaking a record that had been up there since before Helen was even born. 11-12 100 Breaststroke.

This year Laurel was studying the records to see if there were any she was close to.

“How about that one,” I said, pointing to 13-14 200 Breaststroke. “I think that one is do-able, maybe not this year, but next.”

The name next to the record: Helen Zaengle.

Helen called me right up. “I heard you told Laurel to break my record,” she said.

“Heck, yes, I did,” I replied.

“I think that would be great,” she said.

She holds her records with open hands, bidding other swimmers to take them, and I think that makes me even prouder than all the records combined.

The Role of Timers

misc 0048 & Under swimmers swarm around the pool deck like ants on a sidewalk. Some are aimless, while others seem to know where they are going.

Clueless. That’s often the word I use to describe 8-and-unders.

Mama can’t hover on the deck. Only those who are supposed to be there can.

Guards — aka Meet Marshalls — protect the entrances. Most coaches and officials wear their credentials on a lanyard.  Swimmers enter through the locker-rooms; their suits and goggles are their credentials. The other support staff — the timers, the timing table, the meet marshals themselves, the ribbon writers and heat winner awarders — are either known to the people running the meet or wear a lanyard identifying their role.

Of these, my heart always goes out to the timers.

Timing is the first role most parents get to play to help at a meet.

“What if I do it wrong?” new parents ask.

“We’ll train you,” is the usual response.

Start – Stop – Reset. Those are the only three buttons that really matter on the stopwatch for the timers.

Start the watch — not at the sound of horn but when you see the strobe. It’s important for parent/timers to understand this for two reasons — 1) since light travels faster than sound, it may be slightly more accurate, and 2) the strobe is why no flash photography is allowed at the start of a race. Swimmers who learn to watch for the strobe may react to a flash from a camera and be charged with a false start.

Stop when you see the hand touch the pad. That means you have to stand where you can see that happen which isn’t behind the blocks.

Reset. Write the times on the clipboard as fast as you can and reset; the next race starts almost immediately.

One of the officials I work with loves to tell the story of how he decided to become an official. “I couldn’t write fast enough,” he says, laughing. “After I got yelled at one too many times, I said, ‘Hang this — I’m going to become an official!'”

Timers are the unsung heroes of swim meets. They are moms and dads who come out of the stands and work the deck. Their feet get wet. They miss their own child’s finish because they have to watch the lane assigned to them. They get yelled at and blamed for all sorts of stuff. They are expected to make sure swimmers are in the right heat and the right lane, get up on the blocks, and have their goggles on. And all of that is mostly the swimmer’s responsibility.

Which brings me to yesterday.

I was standing on the side of the pool as a stroke official. That means I walked along the side watching the strokes to make sure everything was in accordance with the rules of that stroke. No flutter kick during butterfly, stay on the back for backstroke, toes pointed out for breaststroke kick, and so on.

The referee blew the whistle for 8 & Under girls 50 backstroke. Seven girls hopped in the water and grabbed hold of the wall. One lane was empty.

I looked at my program to see who was missing. It was a little girl from a team in our league. I could see her standing behind the timers, wrapped in her towel, shivering, looking clueless. I wished with all my heart that the timers would turn around and see her, but they were talking.

The starter said, “Take your mark.”

Then, “WHHHHHAANK.”

After the horn, the timers parted and saw the little girl. I watched them look at the clipboard and start talking. I shifted my attention to the swimmers in the water.

“What just happened?” her coach asked.

“She was right there behind the blocks,” I told her. The coach bustled over to the meet referee to see if they could get her in another heat, but no dice.

The ruling was that it was the swimmer’s responsibility to get in the water. The timers didn’t prevent that. The swimmer didn’t try to get through.

She was clueless as to what was going on probably because other people are always looking out for her.

Which is part of why I love the sport of swimming.

From an early age, swimmers learn to take responsibility for themselves. They have to pay attention.

It’s small stakes when they don’t. A missed race. A possible missed ribbon.

But the world keeps spinning and another race will come.

Or you can blame the timer and teach kids that they are never responsible for the things that happen.

It’s those blasted volunteers with wet feet who sacrificed something who are at fault.

 

The Bathroom

She was waiting for me when I came out of the bathroom this morning.

No, no — not one of my children, although, as you can imagine that has happened to me more times than I care to remember.

Every mother quickly learns that the bathroom is a refuge.

Every child learns just as quickly that if he (or she) waits long enough outside the door, Mom will eventually emerge.

And she can hear you if you talk to her through the door.

If a sibling is being mean and Mom is in the bathroom, a note under the door will sometimes expedite her emergence.

But she may not be terrible happy about it.

Bathroom = Sanctuary

I imagine, if Quasimodo hadn’t had Notre Dame to carry Esmeralda into as he rescued her from the gibbet, if he hadn’t had that great cathedral to escape to, he would have found a bathroom.

I no longer have to use the bathroom as a hideout from my children, though.

Yes, young moms, your children will one day learn to leave you alone in there.

Or they will be so busy with their lives that they won’t care one whit if you’re in the bathroom, the bedroom, or any other room in the house. As long as they are fed and the wi-fi is working, the natives will not be restless.

img_1256Now I have a cat that waits outside the bathroom for me.

Yes, a cat.

She follows me around the house. Down the hall. Into the kitchen. Into the living room. Up and down the stairs — not on quiet little cat feet, like the fog, but thumpity-thumpity, like an angry rabbit.

She loves the bedroom where she can hide under the bed and pounce on my feet as I walk around it, straightening the sheets and blankets. I think she especially loves that she can still surprise me

I draw the line at the bathroom.

Her litter box is just around the corner. She likes to supervise my cleaning of it, patting her paws on the scooper as I sift the litter and, um, the other stuff.

But, no, I don’t want her in my bathroom.

It’s that sanctuary thing.

So she sticks her paws under the door a few times to let me know she’s out there and then she waits.

Do cats outgrow this sort of behavior?