Our High School Anxiety Deaccelerator
The transition to high school. It is hard to top that in terms of emotion and
drama. An anxiety accelerator if there ever was one. Will I make friends? What
will my classes be like? How far away from school should mom drop me off?
On and on.
Fortunately for us relief came the first week of school, though from an unlikely
source. Crack dealers operating right there in the hallowed halls of her prep
school. The teachers knew about them; the school leadership did as well; other
parents were actively helping them; and yet no one batted an eye. We can’t
blame other people, though, for we only noticed this after Penelope was already hooked. Sorry Nancy, we didn’t even have the chance to just say No!
Some of you are no doubt shaking your heads. “Yes, we know. Your daughter
has joined the rowing team.”
It all started innocently enough with an announcement from a charming Irish
woman. Rowing is not for everyone, her message read. Have your child come
to a few practices. See if he or she likes it.
Penelope liked it. I mean, she really liked it and insisted on joining. Great, we
thought. Fresh air, exercise, what’s not to like? Then came the bill, the forms,
the swim test, the gear, the travel, and the volunteer obligations. But there was
no turning back. They had us.
Of course, I immediately chose the easiest volunteer assignment: chaperoning
the team bus to practice. There I saw why she liked it so much: Comradery.
People her age, no parents, working in unison. Picking up these extraordinarily
long, sleek, shiny boats, carrying them quite a distance, placing them gently in
the water, and then streaking along together down the river. It is a competition,
but not so much head-to-head like many sports. Nor do you try to outdo your
teammates. On the contrary, the challenge is to stay in sync with your mates.
Rowing was the perfect sport for Penelope.
It might also have to do with boys. Rowing is a coed sport, where the boys and
girls practice and compete together. Say what you will about them, but the boys
bring the fun. All that energy and goofy exuberance. It is kind of contagious.
And in rowing the boys need the girls, who often serve as their coxswain, the
all-important person often barely visible on the end of the boat, who steers and
sometimes shouts out commands and encouragement. It is the perfect role for
little sister finally able to give the what-for to the bigger kids.
That’s why she was hooked. For us it was the adventure. Our first regatta was
in Pittsburgh. It was a hard thirty-six hours, leaving Chicago by car early on
Saturday morning and returning late on Sunday evening. The upside was it got us to travel for the first time during the pandemic.
After exploring downtown Pittsburgh, socially distanced of course, with the kids pressed together nose-to-nose in a giant pack that never came closer than twenty feet from the parents, we rushed off before dawn to the shuttle bus that took us to historic Washington’s Landing along the Allegheny River.
By the time we arrived, seasoned parents of varsity rowers had already set up
a base camp with large canopies AND a full-service kitchen. Thank God for their
foresight and effort. It is astonishing how much of an appetite you develop
sitting in a comfy chair watching young people carrying huge boats and rowing
furiously up and down a giant river.
For me, it was remarkable that in two short months they had become mariners.
They were completely unfazed speeding down this wide river in their sleek
crafts that hugged the waterline. On the long return trip, the Pittsburgh skyline
in the background, oars rhythmically moving back and forth, the image of the
Viking long boats working their way down the Thames in the ninth century
appeared in my mind’s eye. Our novice rowers attack on the food table
afterward was certainly as violent as a Viking raid then.
It was clearly an adventure for them too. At a regatta the following week, a
thunderstorm struck unexpectedly. When the rowers returned, they told
relieved parents that they had docked along the way, had a nice visit with the
owners of the property, and then played football on the beach with opposing
crews, using a water bottle instead of a pigskin. Quite an odyssey for the young
sailors, who were having the time of their lives. Even the local wildlife wanted in
on the action.
It’s every parent’s dream that their kids have the time of their lives. I feel lucky
that I am having mine as well. And just wait until next year when practices start
at 5 a.m. No worries, I can watch them blossom as rowers from the pub across the street.
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