Sunday, July 15, 2012

Is That a Scythe in Your Backseat or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Much of my time parenting a teenager is spent thinking of her feelings, empowering her to speak up for herself, and trying to replace the word "no" with "yes" whenever possible. HAHAHA! Help me, I can't get up -- my side has split from laughter and my spleen is rolling down the stairs!

No, most of my time is spent embarrassing her (okay, often accidentally), teasing her, and nagging at her to do all the things any reasonable human being would do, if they only had hygienic standards equal to those in a refugee camp in Sudan. And it's really easy for me to embarrass her because it's so fun. I mean, who doesn't love doing the arm movements to Y-M-C-A, while singing along? On BART. I'm not completely insensitive, you know. I'm there when she needs me, blah, blah, blah. But when you've got an overachieving kind of kid, I consider it my duty to make sure she doesn't come off as a know-it-all, and change the benevolent dictatorship (which seems to work quite well) into a tail-wagging-the-dog family dynamic.

Which leads me to the scythe in my backseat.

Among the many things in my late father's house are vintage tools. There are woodworking tools, blacksmithing stuff, machining equipment, and farm implements. He was born on a farm in South Dakota, before the Great Depression, and so I guess he collected the scythe as some sort of memory-inducing device. The other tools he probably actually used, as his hobby was restoring antique cars. But the 6-foot scythe, with a 24-inch blade -- not so much. I'd been walking around it, carefully (cue rimshot), for over a year, and decided it had to go.

I knew the perfect place. My wonderful Masters team, MEMO, swims on Sundays at Shadow Cliffs Regional Park, and afterwards we often go out to eat as a group. We found a great breakfast/lunch place near the lake called Jim's. After only a dozen or so times of eating the restaurant down to the foundation (open water swimming appears to increase the appetite), I noticed all the antique tools nailed to his walls. This would make Jim's look even toolier.

So the last time I went to my dad's house (with one of my Masters swimmers, Jane, who unbelievably seemed to enjoy seeing all this stuff), I took it home. Of course it sat in the car for a week because the handle was too long and the blade was too well packed under the passenger seat to remove it and then put it back in. So I drove my daughter around for a week with a scythe handle sticking up in the backseat, like some sort of Grim Reaper Convention attendee. We went to swim practice (careful of your bag, honey -- watch out for the scythe!), my job (where I hid the handle under newspapers, as not to be surrounded by the Oakland SWAT team), the grocery store, the gun dealer (more things from my dad's house, but best left for another blog), Target, Michael's, the Post Office, etc. It was always easy to find my car.

Of course my daughter was mortified that the scythe was always in the backseat. Weird things seem to bother 15-year-olds, I guess. Photoshopping yourself into a picture with the members of the band One Direction and then posting it on Instagram, however, is really cool. She sat in the front seat with me for the week, headphones on, trying to make herself invisible while I cheerfully explained the Story of the Scythe to anyone who parked next to me at lots all across the Bay Area.

And what does this all have to do with my Swimming Life? Not that much, really. But embarrassing my daughter is a little like how I act when I'm coaching. I just try to make all my swimmers laugh. I tease them like my daughter, in hopes of making them feel recognized; I nag them to improve their strokes and work harder. I do this not because I don't want them getting big heads, but because it's pretty hard getting up at 5:30 every morning and driving to the pool. It's got to be entertaining; it's got to be be fun; and you've got to feel good about yourself afterwards. Helping people to get a great workout is fine, but it's more than just designing clever sets and correcting strokes. Coaching adds the little bit of parenting that most people want. Young man, young man, are you listening to me? Young man, young man, what do you wanna be? Not the grim reaper, for sure. Just happy to be swimming.