Namaskar Y'all - 2017

My Confessions as a Swim Mom

By Shyama Parui

Amidst the noisy chatter arose the distinct sound of bells, startling me and forcing me to find its source. I looked around wondering where it could be coming from. I was not at the temple, school playground, carnival or any other place that I had previously associated with bells. To my surprise and delight, I saw a woman ringing colorful cow bells to cheer on her grandchildren who were swimming in a race. That was the very first Swim Meet (swimming competition between individuals and teams) I attended and one of the most memorable ones as I was soaking in the new experience whilst also getting soaked. I realized that sitting in the very front row close to the participants diving in was a rookie mistake.

If you've read my article about the Olympics, you'll know that I did not grow up in an environment where competitive sports were a way of life. When my children discovered that they loved swimming they kept looking for excuses to get into the pool and eventually joined the local recreational swim team. My introduction to world of leagues, strokes, meets as well as my official role as a “Swim Mom" began at that point.

It's true that it takes a village to raise a child but it also takes one to run a Swim Meet. At first I thought the term sounded more like a social gathering at the neighborhood pool rather than a competition between teams. However, it is aptly named because a Swim Meet creates a great community atmosphere. Just as beginner swimmers learn the actual meaning of swimming jargon such as streamline and recovery, newbie volunteers learn what it means to be a Child Gatherer and how to tattoo the EHL (i.e. Event, Heat, Lane) information on their child's arms. Don't worry; these actions are neither illegal nor as insane as they might sound.

After watching hours of practice and races, I have picked up a few skills myself although mine are strictly applied outside the pool. Here are some laughable but practical ones – timing laundry such that you never run out of clean towels, deftly peeling swim caps that have stuck together without ripping them, how to avoid passing out in spite of spending hours at indoor pools and last but not the least, spotting your child correctly from a group of 50 children wearing identical swim caps, suits and goggles.

Coaches have a huge influence but at the youth level, swimmers and their parents are a non-negotiable package deal. It is for this reason that I find the different parenting behaviors at the poolside so fascinating. I don't think of my observations of fellow Swim Moms and Dads as good, bad or indifferent but simply as eye-opening.

• The Anxious Nail Biters – Sitting on the edge of their seat, they can barely watch as their child swims to touch the wall at the other end. There is probably a tornado building inside them almost as if they are the swimmer and the fate of their future depends on it. I recognize them because I have been in their shoes.

• The Laid-Back Folks – They look so tranquil, you can picture them on a hammock by the beach. No stress, no worries and sometimes no idea where their kid is when the frantic Child Gatherer comes looking for them.

• The Possessively Territorial Species – As you head to the swimmer's area at the Championship Meet, there will be a stern looking person guarding their team's section. Even if they have room they will not let you infiltrate even an inch lest you threaten their world. Watch out and step carefully!

• My Child is the Centre of the Universe Kind – the most infuriating but the less said about them the better so I am going to stop here.

If I had to put myself into a category, it would be “The Ignorant Kind," for I have neither the knowledge nor the genes to augment my children's swimming or any other athletic skills. I can't take credit for any of their medals but on the bright side I don't have to accept any blame either.

At times I wonder whether being the child or sibling of a famous swimmer or coach is a boon. Don't tell me you haven't speculated about little Boomer Phelps's potential as a swimmer or the possibility of the Graf - Agassi kids displaying unprecedented tennis prowess. Of course with a middle name like Das and a last name like Parui my kids are on their own and while that may be a disadvantage in the sports arena, it is also a blessing that liberates them from the burden of fulfilling someone else's dream and expectations.

My journey as a Swim Mom has highlighted my strengths and painfully revealed some of my shortcomings. Everyone will cheer for the winner or rally behind the person with the highest medal tally but as a parent you stand by your child no matter what. At the time of defeat or the sting of failure what you say and how you react truly tests your skills not only as a parent but also as a coach or friend. From personal experience, I can tell you that it is not easy. You have to carefully balance being supportive and sharing honest feedback so your children are driven to do better and not discouraged from continuing a sport they truly love. That's when being a trapeze artist sounds easier.

My children have come a long way from jumping into the pool and paddling like little puppies and as I have watched them evolve as swimmers, my favorite part has been being the biggest fan of the Parui swimmers. My husband and I used to scream to the point of being hoarse until the kids pointed out that they couldn't even hear us. That does not however stop me from enthusiastically jumping out of my seat, cheering and clapping. I have proof. Once, in the excitement of a race I dropped the camera out of my hands and didn't even realize it. So, the second half of the footage (no pun intended) only recorded shaky images of my feet with sounds of loud claps and cheers. Did I mention it is one of my favorite videos?