For a few years, my AIM screen name was “Momswimcoach.” It captured who I was at that point in time.
I was a mom. I still am.
I was a swim coach. That has been an on-again, off-again affair.
It started when I coached a girls’ high school swim team for three years. The story of how I came to be a swim coach is a tale in itself. I had no coaching experience and no real competitive swimming experience, unless you count a couple of races when I was in the third or fourth grade. I didn’t really want to be a swim coach; it just sort of happened.
It was, besides my marriage and the birth of each of my children, one of the best things that ever happened to me.
I went into the whole swim-coaching thing thinking that it was about swimming. Coaching, however, is not about whatever sport is involved. It’s about helping kids grow up. It’s about learning how to draw something from inside yourself that you didn’t know was there. It’s about teaching kids that they are capable of great things. It’s about love and life and laughter and learning.
One of the first days it hit me was a beautiful fall day when we waiting for the bus to pick us up for a meet. We were sitting in the grass in a big circle. Some of the girls pulled snacks out of their backpacks to munch on.
When one of the girls got out her snack, a little paper fell to the ground. She blushed a little as she picked it up. “My mother still puts little I-love-you notes in my lunch sometimes,” she said, in an embarrassed but pleased sort of way.
“That’s so sweet!” I said. I homeschooled my own children, so had never done that.
One of the other girls confessed, “My mother does that too sometimes.”
Then one swimmer said, “My mother would never do anything like that. She told me that I was a mistake.”
I looked at this beautiful young woman as she went on, “Yeah, my mom said if it wasn’t for me she could have gone to medical school. I ruined everything.”
Before I could say anything, several other girls chimed in, “I was a mistake too.” “Yeah, me too.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “None of you are mistakes.”
The truth is, I had thoughts of taking the MCATs and trying to go to medical school when I found out I was expecting my oldest. I have never—and I mean never—thought of him as a mistake. I wouldn’t trade my years as a mom for anything.
But that day, sitting with my team of girls, I realized the message so many of them were hearing and it was eye-opening. I was there to give them a different message, a message that they had value, that they were special, that they were loved and appreciated—and all of that had absolutely nothing to do with their swimming ability.
How I loved those girls! At the end of my third season, I knew we were moving and I wouldn’t be back to coach. They made me a beautiful quilt, which I look at often. You see, after we moved, things happened that made me doubt myself and my own value. Each of the girls had made a square on the quilt and told me what it meant. Some wrote letters. Some made pictures. All reaffirmed me and the fact that I had made a difference.
I gave to them like a mother. They gave back to me, loving me in return. I wouldn’t trade my years as Momswimcoach for anything.