It’s that time of year, that time of year where children are required to put on their speed suits, cap and goggles and participate in the school’s swimming carnival. This was Alfie’s first year of competing because you can’t go to the carnival unless you’re in Year 3.
There wasn’t much time to prepare. School’s only been back for a couple of weeks, but we did manage to squeeze in two swimming lessons ahead of the carnival.
As the big day loomed the poor little guy developed a cold that progressed to a fever that moved on to asthma. But still he wanted to compete. Probably because I told him he stood a good chance of winning because all the races are held in age groups and the youngest age group is the Under 8’s. With 95% of his Year being in the Under 9’s, I knew he would have little competition. This was his year to shine!
And I wasn’t wrong. There were so few in the Under 8 50mtr Freestyle event they didn’t have to hold a heat. Alfie, along with three others, went straight through to the final.
But Alfie, in an effort to gain points for his House, also signed up for the breast stroke. Why? He can’t do breast stroke. And there were so few entrants they decided to merge all the age groups so he was competing against people turning 10. To be sure they had more strength, experience, knowledge and skill. And they showed it.
Just before the race Alfie was sitting on a chair in front of Lane 7, the lane he would swim in. ‘This is the breast stroke race, okay’, I yelled from up close and personal where no adults were supposed to be.
‘Is it?’ he asked all surprised, ‘Isn’t this my freestyle race?’
‘That’s later’, I screamed, there’s no heat, you’re just swimming a final and that’s not on until the end of the day’. I was stressed. Can you imagine my humiliation if he did an entire lap of freestyle in front of a packed grandstand only to reach the end and be told, ‘It was a breast stroke race’. I would have died on the spot.
Especially as there were competitive parents there who have had their children in squads since before they could walk and training three times a week at 4.45am is standard and nothing to complain about. Those parents marched up and down the 50mtr pool with their personalised stop-watches timing every event their child went in to make sure it was a PB. I grabbed a packet of chips and a can of lemonade and sat on the grass in the shade.
Perhaps that was my undoing. Perhaps I just don’t take parenting seriously enough. Because when Alfie lined up on the starting blocks, off went the buzzer and he just stood there. ‘Dive in’, I screamed, fully aware there was no way he could hear me. Finally aware his race had started he dived in (a sort of a dive but that’s probably a generous term) and started doing his breast stroke where he knows what to do with his arms but doesn’t have the frog-leg kick sorted.
‘Does he know he has to touch the wall with both hands?’ asked one mother as she watched Alfie slip further and further from the pack of swimmers.
‘I didn’t think to tell him’, I said as other parents paced up and down the pool’s edge timing their children, hoping for that PB.
And as the race progressed, Alfie was in the outside lane and the further the distance, the further behind he came. I walked along beside the edge of the pool (minus the stop watch) and yelled encouraging things to him and as he reached the wall I said, ‘Well done; you did so well, you swam such a long way and this was your first ever race, I’m really proud’.
‘Where did I come?’
I couldn’t believe it. How could he not have noticed he’d come last. ‘I’m not sure. But I know it was very close’.
‘But where did I come?’
‘It was too close to call but you should be very proud of yourself. 50mtrs is such a long way’.
‘Did I come last?’
My heart sank. What was I to say. The mother doing the official time-keeping heard this conversation and she said, ‘It’s all about points for your house and just for going in it, you scored points for Boronia’. What a rescue.
There truly are moments when it’s just not necessary to be explicit about the truth.
And then came the 50mtr final. But by now Alfie’s voice was hoarse and he seemed to have a fever and he was asking me if I had any ventolin. I gave him a few good-luck puffs and off he went to the marshaling area. The Under 8’s race was called and Alfie lined up with the three other finalists. He was in Lane 4 – the best lane to be in if you’re at the Olympics. I thought it was a good sign.
The buzzer went and the boys dived in. This time Alfie entered the water a little more promptly. But it didn’t matter; he still came last. But not by much, it was an extremely close finish between all four boys. And Alfie was struggling for breath and I had to find the ventolin in my hand bag and give him some immediately. But as he was clambering out of the pool the other three boys all said, ‘Ha, ha, Alfie, you came last. Ha, ha’.
And so the tears formed and he said, ‘Can we go? I just want to go home. I want to go now’. And so we left then and there. He’d come last in both his races and other boys had mocked him for doing so. I took him to McDonalds.
But when we arrived home he had at temperature of 38.5C (101.3F) and was breathless beyond belief. He spent the next day and the weekend lying in bed and watching DVDs.
He said to me, ‘I don’t want to go in the swimming carnival next year’, and I said, ‘But you will go in it because the only place you can go is up. I pity the children who have peaked too soon’.
And Alfie agreed.