What I Loved
When I was growing up, I used to dream about what my life could be. I used to think about what I would have done if I could have done anything I wanted. Don’t get me wrong, I know that no child gets to do whatever they want. And most kids probably dream of a life of pure freedom. My son loves to talk about eating candy and playing video games all day.
But I wanted more realistic things, or in my case, not realistic at all. I wanted to be unconditionally loved by my family. Honestly, I would have taken conditional love too. I wanted real friends. My self esteem was so low that I was attracting far too many bullies in to my life. I wanted to play more, especially with other kids. I wanted to talk with others more, to be more social. But activities required me to get too close to other adults which wasn’t acceptable to my parents.
And I wanted to swim. I loved to swim more than anything. My body had been through so much, and when I was in the water, I felt weightless. The pain went away. And I could move through the water with little effort. I was a good swimmer. And of course, I loved the fact that I was good at something outside of school. At home, I was never good.
But Could Not Have
So I embraced swimming with everything I could. I never missed a practice even though I often had to get myself there. In elementary school, I would bike to practice (and it wasn’t that close). In middle school, I made friends with kids who had reliable mothers. I wasn’t going to miss out because of neglectful parents. I knew how to compensate for that.
So when I got to an age where year-round swimming was the only approach to stay competitive, I had a feeling I was in trouble. I knew it cost money. I knew there were adult coaches that would deter my parents. But more than that, I knew it took commitment on the part of my parents. I wasn’t optimistic. But I started anyway.
And of course, I loved it. But the bad stuff started happening as it always seemed to. My mother tried to “trade” me to the coach for a discount on the swimming fees. She also tried to trade me for rides to practices. I was happy to watch the coach blast her for suggesting it. But he never called the cops. And I knew after that, she wouldn’t be committed for long. As soon as I got sick, she blamed it on the swimming and told me it wasn’t going to work. I was just too sickly for year-round swimming. And while I tried to keep up the summer swimming and dabbled in a school-based program, I fell too far behind to compete.
The Compensation For It
So I have to be honest about what is happening in my life today. All parents try to live their childhoods through their own children, but I think it might be worse for trauma survivors. It is no surprise that I enrolled my children in swim lessons and teams when they were very young. It is no surprise that I volunteer at every meet as a judge or timer. It is no surprise that my stress-level drops as soon as I smell the chlorine. And it is no surprise that my kids’ less-than-stellar swimming skills have not stopped me.
I am lucky that I have kids who love to swim for fun. And they will swim without expectations of winning. Otherwise, they would have quit by now. I know competitive swimming isn’t really their thing. But they keep going. I have let them know they don’t have to do it for me because I know what I am doing. I want to relive those swimming years in a more functional non-traumatic environment, but I have to balance that with my children’s wishes. Eventually, they will come to me and say they are done with swim team. And I have to be prepared to accept that I am not raising the next Phelps.
They will continue with the things they love. I will love them for loving what they love. I will love myself in a way that doesn’t require anything of them. That’s what will matter in the long run. My inner child will be loved. And she will know it … even if she doesn’t get to smell chlorine twice a week.
Do you want to learn more? Compensation is the 7th habit discussed in my virtual workshop, The 7 Habits of Parents with Complex Trauma.