05/30/2014 03:59 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2014

What a Middle School Swimmer Taught This Mom


"Mom, where are my goggles?" my middle school-aged daughter asks. My mind tunnels back through the gear we hauled from the car just moments ago after crawling in rush hour traffic to her swim meet 10 miles from home. "Look in your bag again," I say. I really want to scream: "Forgot your goggles? I'm not driving home to get them!"

So begins our summer swim team season. My swimmer has spent many hours training for this meet. And it all hinges on those damn goggles.

Please forgive my exasperation. I never swam with goggles when I was a kid, but I also never swam competitively, as both my children have. "Goggles" were on her list for the meet. My list included food, chairs, towels, sunscreen, bug spray, heat sheet, etc. -- stuff only mom seems concerned about, but if an item is missing, the family rallies in protest. Sighing, I drop to my knees and rummage with her.

She's nervous tonight, swimming the Individual Medley at a different pool for the new coach. Reassurances that the IM is an honor bestowed on the best and strongest swimmers do not ease her jitters -- nor does losing her goggles. In my better moments, I understand that her impatience with me is really her anxiety coming through. But the sweltering weather isn't helping either of us to stay cool.

The plastic wonders will spend most of the swim meet perched on her head, slung over her shoulder, or gripped in her fist, spinning and tapping like a soft-sided set of klick-klacks. (I did play with those.) The goggles' most essential moments are fleeting. They'll shield her eyes from the sting of chlorinated water, magically boost her confidence and transform her into a butterfly machine.

"Here they are!" she shouts, untangling the straps from the drawstring of her spare shorts and darting off to claim her spot in the bullpen. I sigh and settle in among my comrades -- the other parents who've invested the same time, gear, miles and encouragement to bring their children to this moment.

Stuck in traffic earlier, I asked her what she thinks about when she's on the block at the start of a race. "Mostly, I'm waiting for the signal to go," she says.

I've watched that moment at past meets from my soggy poolside seat. She ascends the block, tugging her suit down in back. Daily practice has built her endurance and honed her strokes. Before hunching into the starting position, she places the goggles over her eyes like a superhero donning his mask, the edges of her lips dropping in determination. Her mission is clear. Her focus narrows to the lane before her, the water glistening with comfort and challenge. I try a little telepathy and send the Zen advice of many professional athletes: breathe deeply; be in the moment; trust your body to know what to do and let go. The goggles are her companion and guard, connecting her to the preparation behind and the performance ahead. You bet they are important.

Actor Will Smith once said: "There's nothing you've ever been successful at that you didn't work on every day." On the swim team, my daughter learns the values of discipline, goal setting and daily attention to her craft. These values will serve her well in life. Our swim meet adventures inspire me to renew them in mine.

So I never swam with goggles, but now I get them. I wish they made life goggles for grownups. At work and home, when I start a new project, I need my inner Wonder Woman to confidently climb the block, launch into the race, and win the heat. Where are my goggles to take me from quaking beginner to seasoned professional?

The next day we revisit our conversation in the car. "When I'm on the block," she ponders, "I think: 'Well, no turning back now.' Then, I wait for the beep."

At work and at home, I wonder: Am I strong and skilled enough to see this through? Am I steady while waiting to begin? Have I prepared enough, and brought the right gear? Perhaps my goggles are a pen and paper, or the car keys, laptop, or phone. With each new challenge, I draw strength from my daughter's poise and courage. Take a deep breath, mom. No turning back now. Trust and let go. Goggles in place -- ready to dive.