Mothers in the BleachersDr. Anne Greenawalt
My hands sliced the water and pulled with power, making split after split on each 100-yard freestyle five seconds faster than I expected, hitting the turns at the right speed and right angles, feeling like a well-oiled machine. I paused at the wall after my first set and watched as three other women my age walked onto the deck wearing jeans and button-down blouses and sweaters, not swimsuits like the thin-strapped one-piece Speedo I wore. They walked up the bleacher stairs to the right of the pool and sat down just as a half-dozen kids came out of the locker rooms.
The pace clock came back around to :00, so it was time to push off and start the next set of 10x100 yards freestyle on 1:25. In the middle of my third 100, a lifeguard stood on deck behind the half-dozen kids and watched them slide safely into the pool and hold onto the gutter. This was 1 p.m. on a Wednesday, non-holiday afternoon. I wondered why the kids weren’t in school, assumed they were home schooled by the women in the bleachers – their mothers.
I wondered what those women – those mothers – thought about me, a woman their age, swimming fast laps in the middle of a week day, or if they even noticed or considered me at all. Who was I to have the luxury and free time to dedicate to rigorous athletic endeavors during the day? Why wasn’t I with my children or at least at my day job? For a moment, I felt small and meaningless. Here are these women taking care of their children, providing them with everything they want and need, including a home-school education complete with a physical education curriculum. Raising the next generation, making meaningful contributions to the current and future society. And here I was, swimming. Swimming because I wanted to and enjoyed it. How frivolous. How self-indulgent. I pushed off the wall to start the sixth 100 of the set. At the first turn, my foot slipped on the wall, cutting short my push-off and glide.
I got a feeling akin to jealousy, that admiration kind of jealousy, for those mothers in the bleachers. I had always wanted to be a mom. But there I was at 33 years old, still swimming, like I had as a child, a teenager, a college student, like the 6-year-old children of those women my age in the bleachers. Maybe, though, if those mothers noticed me at all, maybe they were jealous of me, too, wishing they had a free afternoon to pursue their passion, the one thing in life that made them feel strong and powerful, rather than using all of their free time honing the whims and passions of their children. Maybe mothers are too selfless to think like that. But I wouldn’t know; I’m not one of them.