So today was Gracie’s big meet. For a 11 year-old who has only been in the sport 2.5 years she does remarkably well. She works hard. She practices 20 hours a week. She watches videos of all her favorite Olympic divers and she reads books on the subject. She is the hardest working kid I know but sometimes that just isn’t enough.
Today’s meet was the largest held in the world with 29 states and 5 countries represented. She woke up and ate breakfast. When we arrived at the venue Gracie started crying.Hard. Fast and furious. This is a kid who never cries and goes into a meet exuding confidence. Always. But here she was crying and all the parents on the team were looking at her with big ??? on their faces because they had never seen her like this. She was a mess.
“I feel sick. My stomach hurts.”
“I think that maybe you are just a little nervous. Give it sometime and you’ll be fine.”
“No. I am really sick. I am going to puke.”
“You weren’t sick 10 minutes ago. Are you sure you aren’t just nervous?”
“NOOO I am sick,” she wails.
One of her teammates walks over to her and tells her a story of how sometimes she gets butterflies before competing.
“It’s not that. I am sick,” her body being wracked by sobs.
Back over to me she comes.
“I can’t do this. My stomach hurts.”
“Okay, well here is the thing. I think you are nervous and I am afraid that if I tell you that you don’t have to compete the next time you have a competition you will be paralyzed by fear and you won’t be able to compete then either. So I just want you to go out there and do what you came to do. I don’t care if you finish last. It doesn’t matter to me. Just go out there and try to have fun.”
Bigger tears. Sniffles. Lots. More tears. Huge tears. Rapid tears.
What is a mother to do? Where is the manual on the best way to handle drama?
Coach and team take her over to the staging area. Five minutes later she’s back.
“I can’t feel my hands.”
I’ve always had a fear of drowning and at this point I swear I am beginning to feel water rising to ankle level due to the hurricane of tears.
“Listen if your hands are numb then I have to take you to the hospital.”
She sulks back to her team. Obviously this is getting me nowhere fast. Time to switch tactics.
Three minutes later she’s back.
“Okay. So go scratch. Go tell your coach that your cannot compete.”
“NOOOOOOOO! I can’t let my team down like that!”
What is a mother to do? What can I say to this tween that will make a difference?
“It is not a matter of letting your team down. It’s a matter of letting yourself down and how you will feel if you don’t compete. What matters is you. I don’t care what you do and in 10 years you won’t even remember your scores. You have decide for yourself if you would feel worse competing or not competing. It is all up to you.Only you can make that decision and I am not going to make it for you.”
“Mom, I just can’t,” she squeaks… gasp, gulp and even more tears.
“Seems to me you have two options. Either you scratch or you suck it up, buttercup, and get out there and do your best in a situation that is not ideal. I will love you either way.”
So she competes and earns two 4th place finishes and one tie for 3rd. Not bad at all for all the tears. For all the “sickness.” For all the doubts. For all the fears.
Later as she stood on the podium collecting her medals she was relaxed. Happy. Calm. And as those medals clanged softly against her chest I realized that the medals I cherish most from this meet are not the ones that hang around her neck but the one that now rests within her head. It’s the one that will remind her that she CAN do what she sets out to do even if she has to work through her fears to grasp it in her hand. To me, that last medal is worth more than gold. I hope she will think so too someday and will treasure the memory of how she overcame all the crap going on in her own head to earn it.