I'm the kind of person who skips to the conversation when reading a book.
The funny thing is I know that I was that parent. I was over-protective and sheltering, allowing my children to take the easy road via me, but seeing it from the other side made everything clear.
Coach Gretchen, the head coach for our swim team, is like Mr. Rogers. She is sweet, kind, compassionate. She never raises her voice, always has a kind word, and knows what she is talking about. She listens well and never responds in anger. Like I said, she is the Mr. Rogers of swim coaches minus the blue cardigan sweater.
But she is also tough as nails. She knows what she wants to accomplish and how to get there. She makes the swimmers work hard without every yelling. Oh, I can learn a lot from Coach Gretchen!
This past weekend, however, she came to me for advice.
“I’m so angry,” she said, sweetly, calmly, with a smile on her face.
I looked at her in surprise. We were at a swim meet, on the the final day, in the final session of a multi-day multi-session event. “What’s going on?” I asked.
Gretchen is never angry. I said something like that to her once, and she said that she gets plenty angry, but that the only people that can tell are her husband and her children.
“Megan’s mother just came and told me that Megan doesn’t want to swim the 400 IM,” Gretchen said.
Megan is 14 and stubborn. She can be sullen or sunny; it depends on the day.
Gretchen continued, “I just don’t know what to do. Do I make her do the 400 IM?”
“Why didn’t Megan just come and talk to you about it herself?” I asked.
“I’m guess I’m not very approachable,” Gretchen answered.
That’s like saying a harmless little bunny is unapproachable. Okay, well, there was that one rabbit in Monty Python, but I’m talking as a general rule. And Gretchen is not the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.
“I think this is a conversation between you and Megan,” I told Gretchen, “not you and Megan’s mother.”
She nodded in agreement.
“Personally, I don’t think it really matters whether or not she swims the 400 IM,” I went on, “but I do think it’s an opportunity for you to build a better relationship with her.”
She nodded again. A few minutes later I watched her disappear with Megan for a little sit-down discussion.
When she came back out, she stood with me again. “Well, I made Megan cry,” she said.
“What did you say to her?” I asked.
“I asked her what her goals were for swimming. I asked why she had signed up for the 400 IM if she didn’t want to swim it.”
“And how did she respond,” I asked.
“She said she didn’t know,” Gretchen said.
Megan is typical of a lot of kids; they haven’t set goals and they don’t have a clear picture of why they’re doing what they’re doing.
“Is she swimming the 400 IM?” I asked.
“I told her it was entirely her decision. I would like to see her swim it, but she has to decide,” Gretchen said.
It was my turn to nod in agreement.
But Gretchen continued, “I told her from now on I wanted her to be the one to talk with me, not her mother. That’s when her eyes filled up with tears.”
“Growing up is hard,” I said, “and it can be so much easier to let your parents do all those things for you.”
That’s when it came flooding back to me, different times when I had had the hard conversation for my children instead of encouraging them to do it themselves.
I’ve learned not to, but it can be so hard.
And so, my heart was filled with compassion for a 14 year old girl, struggling to grow up, and for a mom, struggling to let go.
By the way, Megan swam the 400 IM and improved her time by 13 seconds. It was a good day.