(Or: Why Mothers Develop Nervous Tics)
Earlier this summer, I had to fetch Little Mr. Coach from a swim camp that he and his father attended. Mr. Coach was booked to coach all three sessions of the camp, but Little Mr. Coach had to return home early for his summer swim league championships.
So, after a brisk 10-hour drive, I arrived at the swim camp and headed for the campus natatorium where the last training session of the day was going on. Picture, if you will, this scene:
Me walking onto the pool deck just in time to see my son – my baby boy, the fruit of my womb, the only male of his generation in the extended Coach family – climbing the stairs to the top of the diving tower. Which he then jumped off, feet first, into the water which was 10 meters (or roughly 6 miles) below. And where was his father, you ask?
Herding more children up the stairs to the top of the diving tower.
Apparently, as I have since learned, it's a rite of passage in the swimming world for young people to hurl their bodies off towering structures into vats of water. Little Mr. Coach survived this rite of passage – though right before entering the water he unpointed his toes, so the soles of his feet were screaming at him for a couple hours afterwards.
But I should be grateful (and not just because I can still nurture the dream that my son will give me grandchildren some day). Apparently there is a variation on this rite of passage which involves nudity. I’ve been told, though I have not witnessed it myself, that during winter training trips college freshmen (and a few freshwomen) will perform this ritual without the benefit of clothing. I extend my heartfelt sympathy to the mothers of these ding dongs (especially if they fail to adequately protect their, you know, ding dongs).
Other rites of passage (which I would like to point out do NOT exist in the track world from whence I came): writing on each other with Sharpie markers (Mr. Coach tells the parents of new swimmers not to worry, the ink comes right off with a belt sander); letting your hair get fried from chlorine (because nothing says "Date me!" like hair that crumbles when you touch it); and shaving all the hair off one’s body before a big competition.
Mr. Coach was still in the habit of "shaving down" (though for triathlons) when I married him.
Yes, there is truly no moment more special in a new and potentially fragile marriage than the first time a husband asks his wife to shave his back for him. It’s a moment that ranks right up there in specialness with the moment when the wife realizes her leg hair grows back way faster than her husband’s.
So I can only hope that, by the time it comes time for Little Mr. Coach to get his back shaved, Adolph Kiefer and his wonderful associates will have invented something that, with one good zap, can blast the hair off an athlete’s body. Now THAT would be a rite of passage.