I applied extra strength deodorant…three times.
I had an arsenal of frozen water bottles in my possession.
I donned airy, Dri-fit clothing that allowed for optimal air circulation.
Every single hair on my head was secured as far away from the back of my neck as possible.
I slathered myself with the recommended amount of sunscreen and pulled down my baseball cap.
I applied one more coat of deodorant in huge strokes, reaching far outside the usual areas of application.
Was I embarking on a trip to the blazing hot center of the earth?
Was I heading to the first swim meet of the summer season?
And I was dreading it.
I like to be hot about as much as I like to drive in unfamiliar territory. (If you want a good laugh, check out my “Trip to Nowhere” post.)
And when you are talking summer swim meet, in Alabama, at four o’clock in the afternoon, you are talking The Three P’s of Hotness:
Prolonged Hotness (four hours, but who’s counting?)
Pronounced Hotness (103 degrees that particular day)
Penetrating Hotness (sweat invades places in your body you did not know sweat could go)
And what sealed my dread with a nice sweaty little kiss was the fact that it would be my first experience as a swim meet “timer.” This means you don’t simply sit in hotness waiting for your child’s brief 20 second swim performance in between hours of other events, you STAND in hotness with a timer and clipboard hoping you don’t miss your child’s 20 second swim performance.
Did I mention I was dreading it?
Before the meet began, timers were called forward for a brief training on their duties.
By this time, I was already perspiring from the process of carrying three heavy bags packed with towels, clothing, and an array of activities to combat boredom from the parking lot to the pool deck.
The sweat dripped down the side of my neck, which in fact, possessed four painful red indentations created by the straps of three lawn chairs and one cooler that I somehow managed to carry along with the bags.
My four-year-old would make sure I noted that I did not have to carry everything; she kindly carried her own Polly Pocket bag, which could actually be defined as “heavy” considering it’s filled with small dolls and clothes that have been collected over a five year period.
(And yes, I pause here to admit there is a slight problem with over packing for swim meets that I promise I am working on…I really am.)
So while I awaited my timer training, we were told to pair up with a partner who would hit “go” on his or her timer at the same time we did to ensure our results were correct.
In my irritable “sweatiness,” I was in no mood to make “friends” with anyone.
I surveyed the partner prospects and set my sights on the quiet looking dad standing off by himself.
I hoped fate would smile on me, leading him to walk over and offer to be my partner.
No luck. Instead, I got the bubbly and ever–so-friendly mom who quickly held out her hand and introduced herself.
Things were not going as planned.
We were then instructed on the timing process and assigned our positions. I was in lane three, positioned directly beneath the scorching hot sun and squeezed between the diving block, the disqualifying judge and my new timer “friend,” Sarah.
In other words, I was tucked in a nice and cozy spot where I could not move my extremities and air would never have the chance to reach me.
As my skin began to sizzle, I looked up to see if a magnifying glass had been placed over my head.
Finally, the age six and under swimmers were called to the blocks. My timer finger was ready and hit “go” at the moment I heard the start buzzer.
When the pint-sized swimmers finally reached the other side, timers were required to ask them their name to ensure we were recording the right time for the right child.
Most of the six-year-old swimmers seemed confused by this question. Some stared at me blankly. Others looked around to see if I was really talking to them. One child even replied, “I don’t know.”
It was going to be a LONG night.
After the next few heats, it was my daughter’s turn. She was in my lane. I felt a sharp pang of excitement knowing I was in a perfect position to see her swim.
From my post, I marveled at her speed, the formation of her arms, the quickness of breaths. I clocked her time AND managed to give her a congratulatory hug. The smile on her face indicated she was very happy I was the first face that greeted her on the other side.
For a brief moment, 19.24 seconds to be exact, I forgot about the threat of heat stroke.
After the age eight and under swimmers concluded the freestyle event, timers moved to the other side of the pool.
The older children are required to do a 50 or 100 yard swim, which means we were able to ask the swimmers their name before they swam.
Coincidentally, the first girl I asked possessed the same name as my daughter. How could I not cheer for her?
Once I hit “go” on the timer, I found myself cheering for a girl I didn’t know, but had a name that I love.
In that moment, I made the decision to do that for all the competitors in my lane. I figured that since I was privy to the swimmers’ names, I might as well cheer for them.
Once the seconds started on my timer, I supportively called out the name of the child swimming his or her heart out in the lane before me.
When the swimmers got out of the pool, they always wanted to know what their time was.
Perhaps it was the teacher in me or perhaps it was the hopeful look on their dripping wet faces, but I didn’t just tell them their time; I also told them what a good job they did.
Most swimmers seemed initially surprised that The Timer Lady had words of encouragement, yet they all smiled in return.
As I clocked each swimmer’s ending time, my timer partner and I compared. There were never any discrepancies in our times; there was no drama. We developed a perfect rhythm between timing, recording, and being ready for the next heat.
We even had time to engage in a little small talk.
I found myself enjoying the company of a woman who had a gorgeous smile and displayed a beautiful connection with each of her two daughters as they periodically came by for a quick hug.
About half way through the meet, I couldn’t believe the time. Two hours had flown past. The sun had dipped down below the side of the building; I was basking in the glorious shade. I even noticed the hint of a slight breeze in the air.
It was then that something monumental occurred to me.
I was standing in the front row of life’s greatest moments:
A child’s determined face as she wills every ounce of her body, heart, and soul to touch the victory wall.
A new swimmer pleading with his little five-year-old arms and legs to just keep going as all the on-lookers cheer his name….
An enthusiastic coach high-fiving his swimmers and reminding them to have fun…
A serious young competitor catching a glimpse of her parents at the end of her lane and suddenly breaking into a smile…
A teenage swimmer reaching out to his long-time opponent to offer a good luck handshake…
A swimmer’s dedication to her sport so evident in her defined muscles and incredible endurance…
A nervous little brother being hugged and encouraged by his older, more aquatically experienced, sister…
Happy healthy children,
Proud and loving parents,
Sunshine and fresh air,
Laughter and conversation,
All here in one place for me to witness, absorb, and celebrate.
And I had a spot in the front row where I could not only feel the splash of the entrance, but the emotion of the exit…the beautiful, heart-warming emotion of the exit.
Around eight o’clock p.m., I found myself collecting The Stafford Family’s 199 entertainment and beverage items scattered about our “camp.” That is when I had another realization.
I realized I must really learn to wear flat shoes; I realized I was so hungry that I might even consider eating “food” from the concession stand; I realized there was an atrocious smell in the air that was coming from me.
But I also realized my heart was full.
And I can’t get that feeling just anywhere.
I had to go where I did not want to go in order to get to a place I long to be…
A place of gratitude,
A place of contentment,
A place of awe,
A place of harmony…
And next time I have the opportunity to go that extraordinary place, I think I will try not to kick and scream the whole way there.
We all have activities and responsibilities in our life that we rather not do. Yet, a negative inner dialogue of dread and complaint merely becomes a distraction from the gifts of that experience. And there are gifts in every experience we have in life; even if the only positive aspect you can come up with is, “I am alive to witness this experience.”
Being alive is definitely worth celebrating, don’t you think?
*When I need to be reminded of the gift that is simply being alive, I visit the beautifully painful writings of Jo Julia. Jo is coming upon the first anniversary of her husband’s death. At Dear Audrey, Jo writes letters to her young daughter about her daddy, about death, and about life.