In the Zone

Number 3 has always had issues with anxiety.

If you have a kid who struggles with any kind of OCD or anxiety, then you can relate.

It can be very, very frustrating.

Sometimes you feel really bad for your kid who has these thoughts and fears running on a constant loop in their brain, and then other times you get so fucking pissed and just want to pull a Cher in Moonstruck and tell them to snap the hell out of it.

For me though, the worry is the biggest problem.

Not his worrying.


Me worrying about if he will stand up for himself. If he can navigate an unfamiliar situation on his own, without help. Without being paralyzed by fear or too scared to ask for help or direction when he needs it.

This weekend we were at a big swim meet called Age Group Championships. In order to go to the meet, you have to have certain qualifying times.

For many swimmers, it’s a goal of theirs to qualify for this meet, and there are, on average, 30 or so kids in each age group who will qualify in each event in the entire state.

It’s a pretty special meet to be able to go to.

Number 3 and 4 both qualified this year, and they both swim in the 9-10 year old age group. Number 3 is ten years old, and Number 4 is nine.

If you finish the season with one of the top three times in your age group, you qualify to go to a meet called Zones.

It’s a pretty big honor to be able to go to that meet as only the very best kids in the state are invited onto the team and they swim the very best kids from other states.

This year the Zones meet is being held near Rochester, New York. Swimmers from Connecticut and New York and Pennsylvania and New Jersey and other states on the East Coast will be there.

Being ten, Number 3 is at the top of his age group and his goal this year was to make it to Zones.

He swam really well at the meet.

But he didn’t swim quite fast enough to have one of the top three times in any of the events and automatically qualify to go to the meet. He just missed out.

He was disappointed, but it lit a fire under him to make the Zones team as a twelve-year-old.

I was disappointed for Number 3 also. I felt bad for him.

Until I checked my email yesterday and saw Would Number 3 like to attend Zones? in the subject line of an email.

Holy shit.

I opened up the email.

There are only a certain number of events each swimmer is allowed to swim at Zones, and the way things worked out and the events that swimmers had been entered in, Number 3 had qualified for the team.

He was going to freak.

When he got home from school, I told him I needed to talk to him.

Am I in trouble? he asked.

I told him I had gotten an email and that he had made the Zones team.

I swear to God I have never seen that kid smile so big in my entire life.

He ran around the house jumping and screaming and cheering like a lunatic.

He ran down the hallway and slid on his knees halfway down the hall like Tom Cruise in Risky Business.

And I stood in the kitchen crying.

He was so happy.

The only thing he wasn’t aware of was that he’d be traveling 5 1/2 hours away with the Zone team to swim in upstate New York. None of his friends on the team would be going with him. He’d be staying in a hotel for four nights. He’d have a roommate  who was a boy in his age group, but it would be a kid he didn’t know at all.

And I wouldn’t be there with him…

This past weekend I gave Number 3 some money to buy himself a cheeseburger at the snack bar at Age Groups. It was a fancy shmancy kind of cafe snack bar that made everything to order, and he couldn’t figure out how or where to place his order.

And so instead of asking someone for help or just going up to the cashier and telling him he wanted to order a hamburger, he walked out of the cafe and over to me where I was standing and talking to a friend with the world’s smallest brownie that was wrapped in plastic and  was the closest thing to the cash register that he could easily grab and pay for without having to actually talk to anyone.

Normally in these situations, if Number 4 is around, Number 3 will grab her and ask her to go with him because she’s not afraid to ask anyone anything.

But Number 4 wasn’t around.

And I thought of this cheeseburger incident and the fact that two years ago he wouldn’t even walk into the locker room of a pool he’d never been to because he was certain he’d get lost and trapped inside there and I’d never find him. I thought about the fact that he was so worried about me going to Canada for the Mom Conference because, as he said to me before I left, What if someone shoots you when you are in Canada? (I have no fucking idea where that one came from). It thought about all the mornings when he’s asked me over and over and over again, But Mom… are you sure? Are you sure this is the right field? Are your sure this is the right pool? Are you sure we are here at the right time? Are you sure this is the right day? Are you sure, Mom? Are you SURE???

Would he be able to handle four days away? Would he be able to handle four days on his own? Would he be able to find his way out of the locker room and would he be able to order a damn cheeseburger???

Maybe he shouldn’t go. Maybe he wasn’t quite ready. Maybe he should wait until he was twelve.

Or maybe I should apply to be a chaperone.

That way I’d be there with him. Near him. Protecting him.

And then the question that I began asking myself wasn’t would he be able to handle it, but would I be able to handle it?

And that’s when it became clear that Number 3 needed to do this. And so did I.

This is the opportunity of a lifetime for him. And it will also push him very far out of his comfort zone. But it will also push me out of mine.

Because as much as I want to help him with his anxiety issues, I know that sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I enable them.

I know that as long as I’m around, he has that security blanket, and I also know that it’s very hard for me to not feel sorry for him and make things easier for him than I should.

Because you know what I did when he came back from that cafe with a tiny brownie and no hamburger?

I went and ordered one for him.

I shouldn’t have done that.

So maybe Number 3 will go to Webster, New York and he will eat tiny little brownies for four days straight.

Or maybe he won’t.

Because tonight he said to me, Mom? You know what? I think I’m going to make some new friends at Zones.

And then he said to me, Mom? Do you think you would have been happy if you had gone to Zones when you were my age?

I told him I think I would have.

And then he said to me, But Mom, now you can be happy because your son is going to Zones.

And you know what?

He’s right.

This trip to Zones is going to help him (and me) in ways that go way, way, way beyond the pool.

And that makes me very, very happy.





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3 replies
  1. Karen
    Karen says:

    I just want to say what an amazing mom you are. I can relate to so much of what you write. I am the mom of two girls – one a swimmer and one with ocd/anxiety and a host of other things. Many congrats to your kids for getting age group cuts and #3 going to zones, I know how outstanding that is. But big congrats to you on your self-awareness. How you handle situations like this is inspirational to me. Taking a step back and looking at myself is often what’s needed. None of us have the big book of parenting so we all just do the best we can. People like you go even above and beyond that and help the rest of us. Can’t wait to hear how zones go!

    • not your average mom
      not your average mom says:

      I wouldn’t call myself amazing, but thank you so much, Karen. It’s so hard sometimes (okay A LOT of the time) to know what the right thing to do is, and even harder to actually DO it!


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