"If you value your life, don't do hockey," they said.
I heard that advice from multiple parents after our family moved to Vermont. Never mind that our daughters were still too young to participate in organized sports, or that they'd never once displayed the slightest interest in or aptitude for hockey; the advice came unsolicited: "Hi, I'm Susie. Don't let your kids play hockey!"
I believe the warnings against hockey stem from a combination of the heavy and expensive equipment, the rigorous practice schedule, and the hours of weekend travel to tournaments. But I can't be sure, because I don't know any hockey families personally -- perhaps because they're either in the throes of or recovering from hockey season.
Nobody warned me about swimming.
This summer, our oldest daughter is a "Cub," part of the 8-and-under training group of the Middlebury Swim Team. I never expected to be a swim mom. Swimming is at the very bottom of my own list of preferred forms of exercise. I know it's good for you, but it just requires too much trouble: you have to find a pool, change into a swimsuit (and goggles and cap, if you're really serious), and after you swim it's hard to avoid taking a shower. (When I hike or do yoga, for instance, I don't have to change clothes and can usually put off taking a shower for the rest of the day. Nobody notices, right?)
I blame my husband. He caught the swimming bug back in graduate school, when he developed back problems from too much desk-sitting. When he began working at Middlebury College and we learned that swim lessons (taught by members of the Middlebury College Swim Team) were available for children of employees, we signed up.
Over the past three years, I watched in awe as my oldest daughter went from refusing to put her head underwater ("Water in my eyes, water in my eyes!"), to begging to join the town swim team as soon as she reached the minimum age of six. When I told her that she had to be able to swim across the pool unassisted, she snapped on goggles over determined eyes, jumped into the pool, and swam all the way across (with much huffing and puffing).
What's a mom to do? I signed her up for the summer swim team. My Mother's Day gifts this year were an athletic swimsuit, cap, and goggles so that I could join the rest of the family in their favorite pastime. I threw in the towel, so to speak.
And swimming, as opposed to hockey, seemed like such a nice, simple sport. No contact. No expensive equipment. I may or may not have dreamed about future swimming scholarships; I may or may not have said to my husband, "Hey, it could happen! It's a small state!"
Then my husband and I attended the first of two mandatory parent meetings for the swim team, and it was clear that our family was entering a new era. I knew that summer swim team involved daily 30-minute practices at the town pool; I hadn't known that there would be meets -- some at home, some as far as St. Alban's -- roughly twice a week. There were team swimsuits and caps. There was a team website that would be updated almost daily. Parents were expected to volunteer at three meets during the season, and help provide food for concessions. And this year, Middlebury is hosting the Champlain Valley Swim League Championship (July 25th & 26th), which entails more volunteer shifts and selling advertising space in the program.
"What have we gotten ourselves into?" I asked my husband on the drive home.
As it turns out, our daughter has loved every second of swim team. She's never once complained about waking up, changing into her swimsuit, and heading out to practice every morning of her summer vacation (and I don't mind, either -- in my experience, fists start flying when everyone has a little too much relaxed time at home during the summer!) After the first swim meet, she was sold -- and so were we. It's lovely that the Middlebury Swim Team is largely parent-run; everyone around the pool, even those holding stopwatches, knows these kids. There was much cheering and hugging, and the loudest cheering came for the last children to reach the wall.
It's also lovely how the town has supported the swim team. Until this year, Middlebury's pool was leaking water, had a reputation as one of the coldest pools in the state, and there was even some question as to whether it would open for the 2014 season. Thanks largely to the efforts of the town's new Recreation Director, Terri Arnold, the pool now has a new liner, an insulated cover, and will soon be outfitted with a solar heating system. Just because you're a Vermonter doesn't mean you should swim in 50-degree water.
So, if you want to find me this summer, chances are I'll be by the pool. And if my daughter continues to love swim team, chances are I'll be there for decades to come. Because with this level of commitment, we don't have the capacity to cater to the individual desires of our three younger daughters. We're a swimming family now; it's either watch, or get in the pool.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone puppy — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.