Official-ly Delusional

I have three kids who swim competitively year round. My own swimming career can best be summed up as “hanging out at the neighborhood pool with my best friends Acne and Helmet Hair”. I can’t do all of the strokes. All of my children, even the 3 year old, can beat me across the length of the pool. I intend to do something about that at some point, but that point is not today.

I spend a lot of time at the various pools in our town,  both indoor and outdoor, usually in a deck chair surfing Reddit while someone else coaches my kids.  I know I’m lucky– my Facebook feed is full of my friends juggling 2-3 kids and 3-5 sports–  all I can say is “there but for the Grace of God go I.” We had a brief flirtation with soccer, but fortunately that’s behind us and I can get back to working on my tan.

In summary: I have no personal experience with competitive swimming and I am at the pool all the time. I am also a recovering joiner and have a hard time saying no to people.

It should not surprise anyone that I am now a swim meet official.

…The same thing we do every day, Pinky

Swimmers and their parents are some of the most manically focused people you will ever meet. Not drowning is not something that comes naturally to the human body, so it takes a lot of effort to get really really fast at not drowning. Races and cuts are decided by hundredths of a second. Plateaus of performance are common. All of this attracts and molds people who are extremely goal-focused and detail-oriented.

By comparison, I like to run. I am not particularly good at it, but I’ve voluntarily gone for a run in freezing rain and enjoyed it, so that means I have suffered enough brain damage to consider myself “a runner”. Running is what people do when they also want to be good at something else– in my case it’s feeding my family. Lots of people are really good at running. Some people even say we are “Born to Run“. Running is objectively less hard than not drowning.

This is what Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time, manages to accomplish when he’s not swimming:

Sure sure I’ll solve the Middle East, just let me catch up on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. image via


Easy Job Hard Job

My first stop on the road to Can’t-Leave-Well-Enough-Alonesville is what’s called a “Stroke and Turn” judge. Despite the innuendo, it has nothing to do with what happens when the kids have gone to bed and mommy has had some Riesling to loosen up a bit.

Here's to the children we obviously don't have! *clink*
Here’s to the children we obviously don’t have! *clink*

The job of the Stroke and Turn judge is to watch the swimmers in the assigned lanes and wait for them to mess up. This means watching for proper arm and leg movements and making sure that walls are touched inappropriately. It requires keen vision and concentration.

I possess neither.

The one part of Stroke and Turn Judge that everyone focuses on and claim they could “never do” is issue a Disqualification. I don’t understand this, because making kids cry is about the easiest thing in the world for a parent to do. They will cry about literally anything, including correcting them on their frequent abuse of the word “literally”.


“That sounds like #87.”

“Is that Brother stole the remote, covered me with a blanket, and sat on me?”

“No you’re thinking of #78. #87 is ‘Brother stole the remote, briefly started to suffocate me with a couch cushion, and then got distracted by my bowl of Cheezits, inadvertently sparing my life.’ Finish your Riesling, dear, I’ll go check on them. Want another while I’m up?”

In fact, it happens so frequently around here that I am a connoisseur of crying. If crying was Iron Chef, I would be Crazy Pepper-biting Guy.

Today’s secret ingredient: I FORGOT MY FLUTE! WAAAH!

It’s 5 O’Clock (in the morning) Somewhere

I don’t like to watch sports, I’d rather play them. If I must, a little bit of liquid courage allows me to suspend reality just enough that I can kinda sorta pretend that it’s me out there, and I could have done that if only I had practiced more.

The problem with swimming as a sport from a spectator’s perspective is that tailgating at 5AM is a horrible idea. Nearly every other sport has the courtesy to schedule their events to allow their fans to get appropriately insensible before hand. Football, baseball, hockey… these all take place at less liver-maiming hours. Swimming? All day, multi-day events going from before dawn to after dark. Professional swimming never became popular on TV until the “tape delay” was invented. It’s a fact, look it up.

For the parent of a swimmer, signing your kid up for a swim meet is signing away your weekend. When it’s over, I am more tired than my kids are. My post swim-meet ritual involves a hot water bottle on the forehead and a CD of whale noises that I got during one of my “experimental phases” in college.

It’s a cover album of Led Zepplin’s greatest hits. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a blue whale sing “Stairway to Heaven”

Seeing as how I was committed to these marathon mornings already, I have been struggling with ways to keep myself entertained that don’t involve ridiculous levels of either friendliness or energy. I haven’t yet figured out how to fit in a nap between the 8:30 AM hotdog-and-donut-from-concessions second breakfast and the 10:30 insulin crash and still watch my kids swim. Then I was cornered by one of my friends.

“Are you going to take the Officiating class next Monday night?”

What a fabulous idea! You can help the team.
Don’t be stupid. Then I’d have to do it all the time.
It’s either that or concessions.
Ew, I don’t want to do concessions.
No you don’t. What could you aspire to be at concessions? Head Donut-Hander-To-er? With officiating, you could be Official.
Oooh, I like the sound of that. Are you sure?
Sure I’m sure. It’s right there in the name.
Okay I’m sold. How bad can it be?

 “Um, yes, I was thinking about it.”

“Great, I’ll see you there.”

It was a hard sell, I couldn’t resist.

Official-ly Delusional

After the hard sell from my friend, I sat in a two hour class and emerged with a t-shirt with the word “OFFICIAL” emblazoned on the back, so I guess I am good to go. The standards are pretty low for neighborhood recreation league swimming.


The funny part is that before my kids started swimming all year I thought neighborhood swim league was a Big Deal. I could not have been more wrong. Neighborhood swimming only seems like a big deal until you get involved in a USA Swimming club and you realize that you knew nothing about Real Swimming. Before you know it, you are stalking the length of the pool yelling “DON’T BREATH! WHY ARE YOU BREATHING SO MUCH!!!” while the other moms google the phone number for “child protective services” on their smartphones.

CPS can I help you?

There is a lady here screaming at her children not to breathe! I think she’s on drugs!

Ma’am what is she wearing?

A T-shirt with some kind of writing… it says ‘Aquatics Club’ on the back… oh no she’s coming this way help me!

It’s okay ma’am, she’s a swim mom, just don’t put on goggles or ask her to find your towel and you should be fine.

I… I’m scared!

Ma’am, do you have any Riesling?



This post is dedicated to all of the volunteers, official or otherwise, who make youth sports happen. Even if your kids don’t recognize you, I do.
And I’m calling 911 because I saw you on a Wanted poster.

Cheating at life

One of the hardest things for me about being a parent is dealing with the idea that there are just certain things I can’t (and even shouldn’t) do for my kids. I didn’t realize just how strong the urge would be to jump in the middle of something they were doing and “help.”

I want to help them cheat at life.

Even by my standards this is a horrible idea. I still wonder, though, if I could give my kids the real benefit of my experiences, what would I give them?


When you’re a kid, life is really just a series of screw-ups waiting to happen. Sometimes I forget this, which leads me to ask the largely rhetorical question: “What were you thinking?”

I have failed atrociously over the course of my life; fortunately, the biggest Fails have happened well before the era of Social Media so they exist undocumented, save in the mythology of my old friends.

Note to old friends who may be reading this: I will be moderating the heck out of these comments. “Undocumented” is the key word here.

I wish I could rip some of these mistakes right out of my head, blow on them a  bit to dust them off, and then shove them Nintendo-style into right into their little brains.


For the cheat codes you still have to buy the strategy guide, though
you still have to buy the strategy guide if you want to get 100% complete


No, don’t ask that person out! Look what will happen! [thunk]

Beer OR Jagermeister, not Beer AND Jagermeister! Look what will happen! [thunk]

Watch out for that tree! [thunk]



How is a kid supposed to know when they’re good at something or not, when they haven’t sucked at enough things to be able to know what being good at something feels like?

On the other hand, I have sucked at a looooot of things. Here’s a short selection:

  • I had an ill-considered foray into stand-up comedy my senior year of high school that resulted in the football team chasing me off the stage
  • I got fired from my job in gas station when I was 17. Fired. From a gas station.
  • All of 1997.


The first concert I ever went to see. Life lesson: a lot of your “firsts” are cringe-worthy 20 years later


I wish I could give my kids the feeling that no matter what, everything will probably be all right in the end, even if it takes a while to get there.


Sometimes things aren’t all right in the end, though. Like a tree that’s been pruned by a 1976 Volvo, sometimes life comes along and takes a big chunk out of you and It. Never. Grows. Back.

Death of a loved one. Stricken by disease or injury. The world is full of stories of people who inspire us by not just surviving but thriving in the face of something life-altering. Even if you’re in really bad shape, you can get better.


Sometimes, though, you end up with a cool dinosaur shape
You might even end up with a cool dinosaur shape



I used to believe that if I ever ran away to a Tibetan monastery and devoted my entire life to mastering the martial arts and learning Ancient Secrets that I could one day become Batman. The fact that I wasn’t yet Batman was a matter of personal choice–I just didn’t exercise the option.

One day I groggily sat up, scratches myself inappropriately, coughed, and threw my back out. At that precise moment I realized that, like a cosmic odometer rolling over an infinitesimal probability, my chances of becoming Batman went from practically zero to exactly zero.

I am still coming to terms with the door closing on my once-promising career in the Justice League. I haven’t given up on the gadgets or the batmobile yet. On the plus side, I have realized there are an entire set of things that are not me, and I am totally fine with this.

My standards of dress have also loosened considerably


One of the things I never realized was just how good I had it, whenever it was being had. Consider:

When you’re a baby people feed you, ooh and ah over you, you can sleep as much as you want, and toes are a delicious and entertaining treat. It probably doesn’t get any better than this, but you’re a stupid baby and in a rush to be a “big kid” so you can do it all by yourself. STUPID BABY! GO BACK TO BEING A BABY!

When you’re a big kid your job is to play and learn. Sometimes things are hard–like the pavement, which you are always running into. If you make a mess of things, though, no one will really remember except your sister, because remembering all of your mistakes is what sisters are for. You still get fed with alarming regularity and you never want to sleep. Toes are not as delicious as pizza. You can’t reach the high stuff in the cabinets without climbing on the counter. If only you were a little bigger, a little taller, a little faster.

When you’re a teenager you don’t “play” any more (unless it’s video games or sports), but you do a lot of “hanging out”, which looks a lot like playing but is less lame.  Your parents claim they feed you, but you suspect they are lying liars because you are always hungry. You can finally reach the top shelf without having to climb on the counter, yay! You can also be tried as an adult just for having a girlfriend with high-strung parents, boo. Mostly, you just can’t wait to go to college.

In college you do less drudgery than you ever did your entire academic career and you’re entirely unsupervised. You are legally an adult but still mentally a child, with all of the rights and privileges that go along with making horrible life choices that entails. You are also broke and can’t wait until you get out of school and get a Real Job.

You finally land your first Real Job, only to discover that now you have Real Bills. You wake up dreaming of sucking on toes and book an appointment with your therapist because that can’t be normal…

Nothing says "I love you" like the gift of Social Isolation!
I should tweet that #weirdtoedream

Up Up Down Down…

I was swapping kid stories with a friend the other day and she was sharing an elaborate hoax she pulled off on their kids to get them to think they had school on a holiday, complete with a fake twitter account and everything, which was absolutely brilliant. This, I think, is the perfect metaphor for why experience has to be earned and not given:

Without the head start of old age, how the heck am I supposed to mercilessly troll my children?