For 10 hours one weekend this summer, I sat outside, under a tent which was supposed to keep us cool, so that I could watch my daughter, Rachel, swim for a grand total of 12 minutes and 43 seconds! Are less than 13 minutes of glory worth enduring 10 hours of sweat, questionable concession stand food, and whining from the sometimes tag-a-long younger brother?
Rachel is a year-round swimmer and she and I travel over the region to attend her swim meets. While my husband sometimes attends meets with us, we normally "divide and conquer" and he takes care of Chase while Rachel and I enjoy some mother-daughter bonding. Sometimes, we spend the night in a hotel if the 2-day meet is farther away from home. Together, we explore new areas, taking in movies, shopping or an occasional fancy dinner. It's great bonding time for us, but mostly we're there for the swimming.
During the winter, meets are inside, but the conditions are not much better than those in the sweltering summer. We usually sit on hard benches in crowded bleachers, in a stuffy, humid indoor swimming complex surrounded by dripping kids and I usually walk around with a water spot on my bottom after accidentally sitting on Rachel's wet towel. So, what's in it for me?
When Rachel is in the water, I scream, jump up and down, and yell "Go, Rachel, go!!!" I can't help it.....I'm competitive. If I could kick for her, I would. If I don't scream and yell, I feel helpless, like I'm not doing my part! I scream, as if by sheer will I can propel her forward just enough to shave off a fraction of a second from her best time. Perhaps I'm a bit of a control freak, thinking that I'm having some effect on Rachel's performance (I'm actually not sure she can even hear me yelling when she's in the water). Perhaps those long hours of waiting are necessary to recover from the exhaustion I feel after working as hard as Rachel does to get her through her race.
So, are those endless hours of waiting, occasionally punctuated by a 46-second 50-meter backstroke or a 2-minute, 45-second 200-meter freestyle race, worth it? I often wonder...
Then I think, parenting is rife with the mundane: Getting the kids up and going in the mornings, prodding reluctant video-game players into doing homework or practicing piano, calling them in for dinner, arguing that it doesn't matter how many times per week their friends bathe, our kids have to bathe every night. Or at least almost every night!
But within and between all of these mundane moments, a child will surprise us with a cute saying, a surprising insight, a joyful wrestling match on the floor, an accidental field goal from the 3-year-old soccer player and a half-second improvement in the 50-meter backstroke!
It doesn't matter whether the parent works inside or outside the home, those joyous moments are there if we simply pause long enough to look for them. Ironically, the more successful I am in yelling Rachel through her race, and the faster she gets, the fewer minutes I'll have to watch her as she improves. We could be down to 11 minutes and 25 seconds by the end of this season! Am I yelling myself out of business? I don't think so...I will just have to really pay close attention to the fewer and fewer of those precious moments....
Sherry is a Professor of Organizational Studies at Wake Forest University and a co-founder of www.HomeBy3.com, a niche online job board which offers free job postings to organizations wanting to advertise jobs which would attract the formerly-professional stay-at-home mom. To learn more about HomeBy3, visit www.HomeBy3.com or email Sherry at sherry.moss@HomeBy3.com. Please email us and share stories of how you or your organization are taking advantage of work flexibility.