Courtesy of Matthew Brandt
I arrived home from work on Monday ready to drive the swim team carpool. Only to remember – no carpool tonight. Since early September (almost without fail) I have driven three swimmers to the pool every Monday. Other parents help out Tuesday, Wednesday and then we figure out Thursday as the week progresses.
We need to leave by 5:40 to make it to the pool by 6:05 so that the kids are ready for land practice at 6:15. Linnea our 9-year-old swimmer is done with school at 3:55 and the bus drops her off at 4:10. At 4:50 she eats a plate full of mac and cheese (apparently the meal of primary school competitors). Promptly at 5 she prepares her swim bag, puts on her suit, and begins the routine of asking me every five minutes “do we need to leave to pick up Lauren and Abraham?”. I say “we leave at 5:40” – she says, “when is that” – I say – “you can tell time” – she says – “but its easier if you just tell me” – she finally relents and figures out the time. We then repeat that back and forth until it is time to get in the car.
While preparing Linnea’s mac and cheese I’m also thinking about what I can prepare for our teenagers who will return hungry from their high school swim practice a little after 7 pm. Thank goodness they like lots of pasta and can run the microwave. I won’t be home when they arrive back from practice – I don’t get home until 8:15 because I have to drive kids home from practice as part of the Monday carpool.
While Linnea and her friends practice, I get an hour and a half to myself in the lobby of the athletic center. I’ve been able to get a few books read during this time and very occasionally catch up on a few things at the office. More often I just sit in the chair and stare into space.
After practice, I take Abraham and Lauren home. I get to listen to the critique of the set, too hard, too easy (rarely just right), a discussion of whether or not flippers are a good thing or a bad thing in practices, debates about how a certain coach is becoming more or less likable (this usually splits along age or gender lines), and debates about the best music to listen to before a meet – Linnea is partial to Katy Perry Rise.
I get home about 8:15 and check in with the boys. Did they eat anything? – yes, they have usually eaten it all. They need encouragement to do their homework. They want to lay down and rest and just get up in the morning – swimming was hard, land practice was excruciating. We have this conversation every night – rest or homework, homework or rest. Homework usually wins which means the discussion about how tired they are continues unabated.
Now the meets are over – which means practices are over and the carpools are over. I’ve been driving Linnea to practice for two years. I have not driven our oldest boy, Michael, to practice in two years. He is 18 and does not need me driving him. I don’t drive his 15-year-old brother, Joe, for that matter. Joe just rides with his brother.
The end of this season felt different from all the rest. Michael is a senior. He swam in his last high school meet two weeks ago. I’ve been watching Michael swim since he was 8 years old. Good meets, bad meets, good coaches, not so good coaches, fast years, and slower years – the joy at the end of an event well swam and the crushing sadness and tears at the end of a season when a qualifying time is just missed. We’ve had more joy than sadness – more smiles than tears.
My mother died when Michael was a sophomore. She loved to watch Michael swim. Joan, my mother, was a long term cancer survivor. She “beat” her cancers, but her body could not defeat the lewy body dementia (a form of Parkinson’s). As her body declined, she still made her way to watch her Michael and her Joe swim. She did not care if her boys won or lost – made their goals or fell short. She just loved watching Michael and Joe swim.
I never got to sit with my mom and watch Linnea swim – Linnea did not start swimming until after Joan died. I know that she would have loved to watch Linnea swim too. I know that Joan is at every meet, but I miss sitting with her and experiencing her effortless joy.
What I think I learned this year is that everything matters. I thought it was the swimming. But it is not so much the swimming as all the things that have come with it. Memories of sitting with my mom – all the time my father now spends at swim meets watching his grandchildren swim – watching my wife and daughter time together at the H.S. swim meets – the conversations in the car that only elementary and middle school children can have – the friendships that our children have formed – the happiness that the teenagers had (once in a great while) for a hard practice set well swam – a sort of, can you believe I did that.
I would not have chosen swimming as the sport for my children. I played soccer and tennis. But they made their choice to swim – or maybe swimming chose them. I’m not sure. I am, however, very happy that they swim.
The 2018-19 swim season will be very different. Michael will be off swimming at college – I won’t be there for the after practice conversations, he won’t eat a meal that I prepared for him. Joe, for the first time, will be on a swim team (school or club) without his brother. Linnea will still swim with Abraham and Lauren and hopefully Lily, Rachel, and Turin will stick around.
Yes, that will be different. I’ll still drive the Monday carpool – I’ll still make a dinner for Joe.
All three of our swimmers accomplished their goals this year – Joe blasted through his times and looks poised for some very strong results the next two years – Linnea qualified for her first state meet.
Michael’s goals were slightly different, he wanted to enjoy swimming again. His junior year was grueling and while he swam faster than he thought he could – the grind of the year almost drove him from his sport. He also wanted to become a competent sprinter (distance has always been his specialty). He accomplished both these goals – helping his 200 free relay team post the second fastest time for his high school in the past 10 years. His joy for swimming returned.
But, when I think of this year, what stays with me is the carbo-load at our house for the high school boys before section finals, all the crazy conversations on the Monday carpool, watching Joe and his brother on the pool deck or Joe sitting with his friend Peter arm and arm before the start of a meet, watching Linnea and Lily deep in conversation at a meet and almost (but not) missing their events – Michael’s buddies in the stands chanting “Mikey B” as he swam his 500 free in his final high school dual meet.
My only regret is that I did not get to experience this year with Joan directly. I imagined her sitting next to me as her grandchildren swam. She was there – I know that because I would feel her presence. She is still teaching me to stop, stay here, enjoy this moment – what is just before you.
That is my takeaway from this swim season – reveling in and enjoying the journey that my children are on – the friendships they have and will form – the goals they’ll accomplish and where they will fall short. I’m fortunate to be a spectator in the lives of three incredible children – who just happen to swim.
About Matthew Brandt
Matthew Brandt lives in Roseville, MN with his wife Kristin and their three children, Michael, Joe, and Linnea. He is a Vice President at Innocent Technologies, LLC. When he is not working he drives children here and there. His boys swim for the local high school team and all three kids swim for the Star Swim Club in St. Paul.