Stranger Things

Halloween weekend, 2016.  Some friends of ours had hired a driver and a group of us costume-less forty-somethings were enjoying a kid-free evening visiting local craft breweries and distilleries.  That night, the only thing better than the free-flowing drinks was the excellent people watching.  While Halloween for us parents usually involves super heroes and witches of the not-so-naughty variety, grown-up Halloween costumes were a whole different animal.  Wait, let’s amend that to hipster grown-up Halloween costumes.  Twenty-somethings all vying for the best pop culture reference with just the right amount of cleverness, wit, irony, and an air of “oh, this old thing?”  Pass the popcorn, please.

Amidst the Bob Rosses, the Richard Simmons, and the Ruth Bader Ginsburgs, there was one repetitive costume that I just could not place:  blond wig, pink ruffled dress, athletic knee socks, dark jacket.  No one in our crowd could identify who these girls were supposed to be and finally, I asked a group of all similarly dressed women, “Who are y’all dressed up as?”  After an epic round of eye rolls, giggles, and guffaws, one girl finally answered, “Um, we’re Eleven…like, from Stranger Things?  It’s a show? On Netflix?  Um, do you, like, know what Netflix is?”  In response, I promptly took my walker and beat her over the head with it and shuffled the hell out of there with my posse.  No, not really, but how I wish I could have.  I’m old, but yes, I do know what Netflix is…bitch (no question mark).

Fast forward to Fall 2017.  I still hadn’t watched Stranger Things but signs were everywhere that this is a thing.  Not to be left behind (FOMO is real, people), Chris and I started watching and were quickly hooked.  What’s not to love? The 80s! The sound track!  The fashion!  Those bikes with the banana seats!?!  It hit our nostalgia spots in all the right places.

Amidst our own preoccupation with the show came Sarah’s own interest in watching the series.  At twelve, she had been hearing from friends about this must see TV show and was begging us to let her watch it.  Chris and I definitely had reservations.  The swearing!  The medical experiments!  The blood-seeking monster!  Nancy losing her virginity!  Those are some uncomfortable seas for me and Chris to navigate…well, maybe just the virginity part.  But despite these concerns, we told her yes with the caveat that one of us watches it with her.  She quickly agreed, and for the past two months, we have been sneaking in episodes, or “Chapters,” when the house is Katie-free.

Chris has taken on watching most of these with her and I’ve only had the chance to  watch one with Sarah: “Holly Jolly” from Season 1.  And boy, is it a doozy!  Barb has disappeared! Nancy spends the night with Steve! Joyce goes nuts with the Christmas lights!  Hopper begins to suspect that something strange is afoot at the Circle K!  Will’s body is pulled out of the quarry!  OMG.  Action.  Packed.

Yes, this is the episode where Nancy sneaks back into the house after having sex with Steve and her mom begs her to tell her what is going on.  It’s what you might call a “teachable moment” for us parents.  When the credits rolled, I turned to Sarah and asked her what she thought of the episode….did she have any questions about what had happened?  When she replied in the negative, I pushed a little more and asked if she understood that Nancy and Steve had sex and that’s why she was sneaking in?  Crickets.  Finally, one last stab- did she want to talk about it? And after a lengthy pause, she says, “Yes.”

Cue the flop sweat.  What will she ask about? Premarital sex?  High school sex?  Premarital, high school sex?  Premarital, high school sex in the 80s?  I girded my loins to answer any and all manner of questions regarding sex, relationships, love, rebellion, friendships, mother/daughter relationships…this could get D-E-E-P.

Sarah: You know when Hopper goes to the library?

Me: (slightly confused) Um, yes.

Sarah: What was he doing with that thing?

Me: What thing?

Sarah : You know, that thing.  That machine….where he read that article?

Me: You mean the MICROFICHE MACHINE?!?!

Yes, my daughter wanted to know what in the sam hill the microfiche machine was.  This I could do.  I began explaining that before Google, before Yahoo, and even before a thing called AOL, was microfiche.  They would take pictures of articles in newspapers or journals and put them on small cards of film (“Film? What’s that, Mom?”) called microfiche.  Librarians would catalog the microfiche by title, keyword/subject, and author.  Then you’d look it up, request the microfiche, and that machine would blow it up so that you could read it.

As I explained, her brown eyes got bigger and bigger.  It seemed almost unbelievable to her.  And when I told her that I myself used microfiche to research papers, her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.  With a sad shake of her head and a pity-filled glance my way, she proclaimed, “I knew you were old, but not that old.”

So, there you go.  Of all the stranger things in Stranger Things (The telekinesis!  The Upside Down! The government-sanctioned experiments on kidnapped children!), this is Sarah’s Strangest Thing:

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Good Will To All

Yes, I know it’s been almost four years.  And yes, I know I said I would continue to write.  And yes, I said I would continue to blog.  But, (spoiler alert) I didn’t.  Requisite excuses and mea culpas to come in a future post.

Fast forward to November of 2016 and writing is the last thing on my mind.  But over lunch one day, my dear husband turns to me and says, “I know what I want for Christmas… I want you to write a blog.”

Err, excuse me?  While I was fully prepared to Amazon his gift of choice with just a few taps of my nimble fingers, I was not prepared for this.  What do I write about?  How do I even start?  When do I have the time?!?!  It was the start of the Christmas season and don’t laugh, you legitimately employed readers, my busiest time of the year!  There are cookies to be baked, gifts to be bought, presents to be mailed, cards to be addressed, donations to be given, kids activities to volunteer for, parties to attend, friends to host…and don’t get me started on that damn elf!  Yes, I know…I can barely write this with a straight face.  I never said I was trying to send a man to the moon.  I’m a housewife, people.  This is what I do.

Then, as if the gods could hear my frantic inner monologue, what appears in my mailbox but a jury summons?  For the two weeks in December leading up to Christmas, I would be forced to sit in a room full of strangers who had also “won” a civic lottery of sorts with absolutely nothing to do.  No running last-minute errands, no post office trips at the eleventh hour, and no cursing like a drunk sailor while wrapping Christmas gifts when the girls are in school.  Instead, I’d have to compress all of my tasks and finish by the 9th. The 9th!!!  I needed smelling salts just thinking about it.

While I bemoaned my fate, I received tons of advice on how to escape jury duty.  My favorite was from my well-meaning aunt in Dallas given over pre-Thanksgiving drinks:  pretend I don’t speak English.  I won’t lie; I did entertain the idea for half a second.  But when I realized the only things I could spout in Korean were restaurant menu items (Kimchi!  Galbi!  Bibimbop!), I put on my Star Spangled Banner big girl panties and reported to dungeon-like basement of the Hennepin County Government Center on December 12th to fulfill my civic duty.

I won’t bore you with the minutiae of sitting on my butt, minute after excruciating minute, waiting to see if I would be needed to serve.  Because if I did, it would look something like this:

9:23AM- Threw away old receipts from my wallet and spent 20 seconds in silent shame reflecting on my horrid fast food addiction

9:26AM- Tried not to judge the man sitting next to me who was precariously close to invading my personal space because he was falling asleep

9:27AM- Ate a KIND bar

You get the picture.  My only real source of entertainment was sending my dear husband texts throughout the day informing him of various chores that he needed to do for me.  He was not amused, but me?  I felt drunk with power!  I finally knew what it was like to have my very own housewife!

By the end of the first day, I was almost delirious with boredom.  Just when I thought the hallucinations would start, I heard my name called.  They needed a group of 24 to be interviewed for a criminal case.  Our group was whisked away to one of the many courtrooms in the government center.  Please note: when I say “whisked”, I mean with all the rapidity of any government agency.  This involved a glacial TSA-like security check, a slow crawl up a rickety freight elevator to the 7th floor, and yet another mind-numbing 32 minute wait in the hallway of the courtroom.  The wheels of justice are anything but swift.

In the courtroom, our group was interviewed by the judge and attorneys on everything from our employment history to criminal records.  The interview lasted into the following day and well, I didn’t make the cut.  Despite not having a criminal history and not having served in law enforcement myself (apparently, being sheriff of my house doesn’t count), I was let go.  And while I could write a whole ‘nother blog about my feelings of rejection and unworthiness (ha ha), I’ll leave you with this.  The group interview process was an unexpected gift.  It was a reminder to me that 1) I am a lucky woman and 2) to be kind and respectful to your fellow human beings with an open and understanding heart.

With no electronics to distract me and no way to multitask, I heard the stories of 23 other people who like me, were randomly selected for jury duty.  Within this microcosm of our population, I listened as women admitted to being sexually assaulted or abused and others confessed to having been homeless.  Many talked of their own struggle with drug addiction and some admitted to having served jail time.  One shared that family members had been shot and killed while another told of how her father was currently serving life for murder.  They also talked about their children, relatives, and other loved ones and while we might have been from varying backrgrounds, we all had the capacity to love, forgive, and endure.  In the age of soundbites and Twitter, you forget that there is a whole life history behind each person that can’t be summarized in 140 characters or less.  Sitting in that courtroom, all I could do was listen, feel, be thankful, and promise myself to do more to help my fellow men and women.  What more can you ask for from Christmas?

As I said, I wasn’t selected for this particular case and spent another day in the “pit” waiting to see if I would be needed for another.  I started this post that day out of a combination of boredom and inspiration.  And at the end of the third day, the county released all jurors and I found myself with a second gift: a calendar that was now completely clear for the one and half weeks leading up to Christmas. So thank you, Hennepin County, for the gift of time and the gift of heart.  Merry Christmas, everyone and Merry Christmas, honey!  Thanks for making me do this.

Material Girl

I’m a girl of the 80s.  Sky high bangs, the heady scent of Aquanet, and over-sized Coca-Cola sweatshirts all hold a special little place in my neon pink heart.  Everything about that time seems airy and sugar-coated.  Yes, I know we still had the Cold War and nuclear annihilation as real threats during most of those years but they almost seem quaint in the face of today’s war on terrorism, global warming, and Honey Boo Boo.  The movies, the tv shows, the clothes…it was just all so fun.  And of course, there was the music.  I can’t tell you what I had for lunch yesterday but I can recite the lyrics to George Michael’s Faith almost verbatim. So when I heard the Queen of Pop herself, Madonna, was coming to St Paul after a 25 year absence from the Minnesota tour circuit, I knew I had to get tickets.

In anticipation of what I was sure would be an epic event, my girlfriends and I booked a hotel room in St Paul so that we wouldn’t have to worry about driving home that evening in a less than completely sober state (read: tequila shots!).  We joined forces with other friends attending the concert and made dinner reservations at a restaurant in downtown St Paul.  We texted, emailed, and re-texted each other over what to wear.  I spent the week prior to the show listening to Madonna on my iPod.  I did everything short of donning a Boy Toy belt buckle and a cone bra to prepare for the big night.

The concert was this past Saturday night and although the tickets stated an 8pm start time, we knew she wouldn’t come on till later.  We enjoyed a very leisurely dinner where I mixed alcoholic beverages (martinis! wines! beers!) with careless abandon.  Buzzed and happy, we headed over to the arena around 9:30, where we amused ourselves with some excellent people watching:

9:30 turned to 10pm.  And 10pm turned to 10:30pm.  Still no Madge.  10:45, the lights finally dimmed and while the tipsy-trying-to-recapture-my-youth-Jane was excited for the concert to start, the 37-year-old-mother-of-two-curmudgeon was a tad bit annoyed by the overly late start.  My annoyance turned into shock though when one of Madonna’s first numbers, “Gang Bang,” featured her in a “motel” onstage in all her leather-clad glory shooting her male dancers with a gun, complete with larger than life blood splatters on the video screen behind her.  Hmmm…talk about a buzz kill.  What happened to the happy, peppy songs like “Cherish” or “Holiday?”  This may not be the concert I had anticipated in my head.

And it was not.  Madonna “sang” a disproportionate amount of songs from her latest album, MDNA, which to me all sounded like garbled, synthesized noise.  And yes, I completely acknowledge that this last statement makes me sound like a disgruntled senior citizen without enough fiber in her diet.  I was hoping for at least a good chunk of songs from her glory days….Material Girl, Papa Don’t Preach, Crazy for You, Into the Groove, Borderline.  I even would have been happy with her later 90s stuff where she reinvented herself as some Mother Earth Yoga goddess dressed inexplicably in a kimono.  Instead, she sang a handful of her older material but never in their entirety or in their original format.  Her slow, cabaret version of “Like a Virgin” elicited a polite golf clap from most of the people around us.  And when she was writhing slowly on the stage floor, licking her mike in a pantomimed act of fellatio,  I wanted to yell out, “You’re 54 for goodness sakes! Have some dignity!”  Yup, I know– I’m adding Metamucil to my grocery list…right…now.

When it became apparent that this wouldn’t be the dance-a-thon that I was hoping for, I sat down in my seat and began to check my emails.  Then, as the night grew later, I found myself  trying not to fall asleep.  Lest you think I was the sole lame-o in the arena, the 6 gay guys in our row also spent a majority of the concert sitting down.  Gay men! Seated! At a Madonna concert! Sad but true.

So the concert, was for me, a big let down.  Sure there were some positive points….I did marvel at the fact that she danced her ass off for 2 hours at 54 years of age.  But I certainly didn’t spend $190 on my ticket to ooh and ahh over her stamina.  And sure, I understand that as an artist, she wanted to showcase her newer songs instead of living in the past.  Maybe if I had been younger and didn’t have so many emotional ties to her music, I would have appreciated that more.  But I didn’t and I don’t think I was the only one that felt that way.  Because if she had taken a look at her audience, she would have seen that the vast majority of people there were like me…men and women who came of age in the 80s and early 90s, desperately seeking their youth.

Even this show of lights wasn’t enough to keep me awake!

Happy Halloween!

Chris came back into town last night after 4 evenings away on a golf/gambling/alcohol/food binge to Las Vegas…but alas, no vasectomy. So he has the pleasure of escorting our daughters as they demand candy from our neighbors in our balmy 40 degree weather. I am taking the night off and plan to hand out candy with one hand while drinking red wine from the other. Because that’s what moms do: we multi-task. Happy Halloween everyone!

A is for Apple

Fall is upon us here in the great northern state of Minnesota.  Most of the trees are bare and even on sunny days, there is a crispness and a coolness that signals to us unlucky inhabitants of this state that winter is coming.  Winter in Minnesota.  Sigh.  It is truly a time that tries men’s (and women’s) souls.

So in preparation for the sad days to come, we try to maximize the autumn days we have left.  Trips to pumpkin patches, fall festivals, corn mazes.  And of course, the apple orchard.  Everyone has their favorite.  The Reicherts are particularly fond of Minnetonka Orchards.  It was the first orchard I visited when I was a childless and carefree (childless and carefree…now that’s redundant!) grad student back in 1997 and it always gives me one of those “circle of life” feelings to take our girls there.  Since my first trip, I’ve seen the orchard add more and more attractions to lure in visitors, but of course, the real draw is the apples.  Sarah and Katie love to pick their own, scouring the trees for just the perfect ones.  Taste testing is of utmost importance and it seems the girls eat as many as they pick.

Once we bring our bounty home, the girls always beg me to bake a pie.  Baking a pie is one of those skills I have yet to master.  That and parallel parking.  So instead, we settle for this delicious Cinnamon Apple Crisp.  It is a simple, almost full proof recipe and I feel like Betty Crocker (if she had been a real person and Korean) when the aroma of the cinnamon, baked apples, and sugary crust fill our home.

REICHERT RATING:  Three thumbs up from Chris, me, and Sarah.  Katie is of a less refined palate and declared, “I don’t like this thing.”  That’s ok…more for me!

THE “BUT I WANT TO HELP” QUOTIENT:  The girls loved making the crumbly crust of the crisp…maybe a little too much.  As Sarah and Katie were literally elbow deep mashing up the ingredients, I tried not to think of all the places their little fingers had been that day.  Up their nose was probably the cleanest of the possibilities.  Surely the heat from the oven kills any germs, right?

And the best part for the girls, licking off sugar, flour, and butter from their grubby little fingers, hands, and elbows.

I wanted to take a picture of the final product but we dug into too fast.  Here’s a picture of it half scooped out of the pan.

 And of course, you gotta eat it with ice cream:

The recipe is one that I modified from epicurious.  The beauty of this one is that you can make the recipe as is or use it as a starting point to change it however you wish.  Rolled oats in the topping or maybe throw in some cranberries?  Drizzle some caramel on top?  Add some nutmeg, cloves, or all spice?  Hard to go wrong with this one!


1/2 to 3/4 cup brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like your desserts and the sweetness of your apples)

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

3-4 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (I cut mine into 8ths, any thinner and it gets too mushy for me)

1 cup flour

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 450°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Combine brown sugar and cinnamon in large bowl. Add apples and toss to coat. Transfer apple mixture to prepared dish.

Combine flour, sugar and butter in medium bowl. Using pastry blender or fingertips, blend ingredients until coarse meal forms. Spread flour mixture evenly over apples.

Bake crisp 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake crisp until apples are tender and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Let’s Get Physical

Like a modern day Margaret Mead, I survey my surroundings and I behold an alternate universe.  In this topsy-turvy world, my other mom counterparts prance around with no make up on, their hair in messy pony tails, and some wear shapeless sweats.  All are in dire need of a shower.  And in another striking observation, I see that all are without their children gripped around their knees.  What is this nirvana where going without our obligatory half stick of concealer and perfectly groomed eyebrows is not only acceptable, but expected?  It is The GymAnd oh, what a place it is.

I am a relative latecomer to the modern day phenomenon known as Lifetime Fitness and the significant role it plays in the mommy subculture.  I mean, up until a year ago, I thought lululemon was a chain of bakeries….imagine my disappointment when I discovered they sold work out wear and not decadent chocolate pastries.  It wasn’t as though I was totally unaware of Lifetime and all that it had to offer.  I had plenty of friends who were members and they tried to lure me in with promises of how wonderful it was.  The work out equipment!  The classes! The child care! The smoothies!  Honestly though, I viewed their claims with some skepticism and avoided falling prey to their cult-like attempts to recruit me.  After all, you can dress it up any way you want but the bottom line is that it’s still an institution devoted to exercise.  I’ve spent most of my adult life avoiding any kind of physical exertion and limited my “cardio” to chasing after my kids and hoisting my daughters over my shoulders whenever we would have to make a not-so-graceful exit from Target.  But as I stated in my last post, the body ages and one must take drastic measures.  And in my case, drastic measures meant joining the gym.

I have to admit, I was nervous.  Anything involving hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills gives me the heebie jeebies.  And I truly felt like I was navigating unknown territory.  What does one even wear to work out?  I made a quick dash to our local mall and stocked up at lucy, the only workout wear store I knew of (because as I said before, I was under the assumption that lululemon sold scones).  And even that excursion had me reeling in self-doubt because as I shopped, I noticed that all the other women shopping in the store were “of a certain age.”  Had I inadvertently stumbled into the Chico’s of workout wear?  And what do women do about underwear when they work out? Do they wear it? Or not?  I hadn’t even stepped foot into the gym and I was already sweating.

When I entered as a member for the first time, I felt like I had landed on another planet.  So this is where all the moms go in the mornings!  This is why it has become perfectly acceptable to wear yoga pants almost every where you go.  I finally found the perfect excuse for my slovenly ways, “Why yes, as a matter of fact, I am heading to the gym after this.”  It was like a free pass to look and smell like crap ALL DAY!  That alone was the price of admission.  Though not that everyone looked like a slob.  After a few trips, I would discover that even workout wear could be elevated to fashionable heights and that some women still looked good sans make up with sweat dripping out of every pore.  Those bitches.

And I can’t forget the childcare!  Hundreds and hundreds of square feet devoted to keeping your child entertained while you unlatch them from your torso:  Apple computers, basketball hoops, arts and crafts, games, giant play structures, bouncy castles.  And you can leave them in there for 2 hours a day!! All in the name of “physical fitness!”  Genius!!  Of course, not all kids like it.  With their finely tuned radars up, they can still sense the presence of their mommy servants within the building and will not rest until they are rescued.  Occasionally, the intercom beeps overhead and you can see all the moms freeze mid-work out and breathe out a sigh of relief when their name is not called to the child center while the lone mom has to walk with head bowed in defeat to retrieve their child.  My own children merely tolerate it and will stay for 45 minutes or so.  Conveniently enough, Lifetime also has a cafe with an array of smoothies and snacks– perfect for bribing my girls into staying.  Again I say: genius!

I’ve been a member for about a year now, minus some months in the summer.  I tried a few classes and discovered Zumba is not my friend.  I took some tennis lessons, where I am proud to report I was the SECOND to worst one in the class…yes!  But it still wasn’t for me.  Although as a side note, that is a whole other subculture in and of itself: the stay at home mom’s tennis league.  I finally decided that the treadmill was the thing for me.  While most sports are beyond my capabilities, I can, on good days at least, put one foot in front of the other in a repetitive fashion.  I won’t be running marathons any time soon but I’m fairly confident I could sprint down the block if I were being chased by a pack of rabid dogs.  The best part is that I can listen to my own music for the entire workout.  For a glorious 30 minutes, I am not a hostage to the Wiggles, The Fresh Beat Band, or Laurie Berkner.  Instead, I rock out (or at least I think I do) to my own outdated 80s tunes.  It’s just like heaven.

So, this brings me to yet another question.  After all these years, is it the promise of escaping my servant duties for 45 minutes that finally got my ass in gear?  Sadly, I think so.  My children have driven me to exercise.  But by the looks of my Lifetime at 9:30am on any given weekday, I’m in very good company

Go for the Gold

From the minute our darling Sarah was born, Chris and I “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” over her like the treasure she is.  We cheered her on as she rolled over for the first time and applauded her first teeny tiny wobbly steps.  As she grew older, we continued to bathe her with lavish praise for her every accomplishment, no matter how big or small.  Like a hothouse flower, Sarah bloomed in an environment where she has been unquestionably “the best” at everything she has done.

Of course, it’s easy to be the “best,” when you live in a world where they don’t even keep track of goals during a soccer game.  Every game this season ended in a “tie” despite some rather lopsided performances.  Sarah seemed a little suspicious, but also didn’t question the system too much.  After all, medals were rewarded to everyone at the end of the season so why rock the boat?

This kind of Non-Competitive /“Everyone’s a Winner”/Let’s All Hold Hands and Sing Kumabya/Utopian Fantasy Land can’t last forever.  Our young ones will learn soon enough that it’s a rat race out there and that they will one day become young rodent competitors themselves.  For Sarah, that day of reckoning came on June 20, 2012 at her first swim meet.

Sarah at age 3

Let me explain.  Sarah is a great swimmer.  She started diving off the diving board at age 3 and progressed to doing 25 meter laps (freestyle, backstroke, and breast stroke) at age 5.  And with justified parental pride, we cheered her on.  We praised her until her chest puffed up with confidence.  Until she was convinced that she was absolutely the best swimmer in the whole world.  Until she thought of herself as the Michael Phelps of the six and under set.  Well, you can guess where this is going.

This summer, rather than taking swim lessons, we signed her up for a swim team.  Practices were four times a week with meets once a week for roughly two months.  For the first three weeks of June, the kids practiced with their team, perfecting their strokes.  The coaches were fantastic, especially with the younger kids and balanced fun with learning.  They also gently reminded the kids that at their meets, they may get disqualified but what matters most is that they try their best.  I am fairly certain that this last piece of wisdom flew over the heads of most of the children and especially Sarah.  Disqualified?  What does that even mean? We’re all winners, right?

For the first meet, Sarah signed up to swim the breast stroke and freestyle.  In her first race, the breast stroke, she competed against roughly 30-something other 5 and 6 year old girls and in her heat, she came in second speed-wise.  So I am sure in her little heart, she believed she would walk away with one of the ribbons awarded to the top 6 finishers overall.  As the results were posted, I took a quick look and was crushed for Sarah when she had a little “DQ” by her name.  In fact, of the 30-something girls who had raced, only THREE had not been disqualified.  Ouch.  Hello, Real World.  Part of me understood the judge’s reasoning for this: if the kids want to compete, they need to do it right.  But another part of me wanted to wail, “They’re only SIX YEARS OLD!  Have you no hearts?!  You are crushing their spirit!!”  They all deserve a ribbon!  And a trophy! And a puppy!

In the showers, Sarah chattered on and on about her hopes for a ribbon.  I couldn’t let her go on a minute longer.  I told her as gently and as lovingly as I could that she would not be getting a ribbon because she had been disqualified.  Her eyes welled with tears and she began to sob, “WHY? WHY? WHAT DID I DO WRONG?” and then, with a betrayed look in her eyes, uttered words that were like a knife to my heart, “You told me I was THE BEST!”  I had to stand there and tell my six year old that while she is an excellent swimmer and that I was so proud of her no matter what, that she did not do the stroke correctly and that the judges could have disqualified her for a variety of reasons: false start, incorrect stroke technique, illegal finish.  I then tried to soften the blow by telling her that breast stroke was one of the hardest ones to do right and that only three girls out of all the ones swimming in the 6 and under race had done it correctly.  So really, everyone did pretty badly.

Unfortunately, this did not have the comforting effect I had been hoping for. In fact, Sarah wailed even louder and declared that she didn’t ever want to do swim team again.  All night, she told Chris and me that her fledgling swim career was over.  And while I wanted to cave to her (she was so heartbroken), Chris remained strong and insisted that she go to practice the next morning.  And lo and behold, in her box were two “Personal Best” ribbons!  Sarah’s love for the sport returned in a flood of glee over the two rainbow colored ribbons which she pronounced to be even prettier than the solid color ribbons for the top finishers.

Sarah with the first of her Personal Best ribbons

The second meet went pretty much the same way.  Disqualified for breast stroke and not quite fast enough for free style.  And she only earned one “Personal Best” ribbon this time because she did not better her time for breast stroke.  It began to dawn on Sarah at this point that these ribbons were really just consolation prizes and not the real deal.  She tossed them into the swim bag without a second glance, all the while coveting the solid colored ribbons of the 1st through 6th place winners.

All summer we toiled under the hot sun with no satisfactory results.  One time her kick wasn’t in sequence.  Another time, her hands came too close to her stomach.  In one heartbreaker, she did the entire stroke correctly but finished with one hand on the wall, not two.  DQ, DQ, DQ.  Tears, tears, and more tears.

Swim season concluded with Championships during the last week of July.  There were the Jr. Championships, in which almost all swimmers could compete.  And then there were the Championships, in which swimmers were selected by the coaches to compete against swimmers from all five other teams in our league.  Sarah’s coach felt that with one solid week of work and focus, she could be legal in the breast stroke and compete in Championships.  But she also told Sarah if she wanted, she could do Jr. Champs and would definitely get ribbons in as many events as she wanted since they don’t DQ anyone.  Sarah thought about it and with determination, announced she wanted to go to Championships.

All week she worked with her coaches to perfect her breast stroke.  The day of Champs, I was a nervous wreck.  There would be 18 girls competing in breast stroke and the top 12 finishers would advance to the next day.  I prayed and prayed that Sarah would not get disqualified.  If she did, what lesson would she learn?  That hard work doesn’t pay off?  That sometimes, no matter how much you want it and work for it, it just doesn’t go your way?  Yes, these are in fact some tough life lessons but I wasn’t prepared for Sarah to learn them quite yet at the tender age of six.

Well, this is one story that does have a happy ending.  Sarah swam legally(!) and finished 8th over all the first day.  She advanced to finals and placed 10th, securing a long-wished for ribbon.  And not just any ribbon- a state fair quality ribbon.  She was so happy with herself and I am sure even Missy Franklin’s parents couldn’t have been prouder than we were of Sarah that day.  Because even though she didn’t win first, she worked so hard to get it right.  She set a goal for herself, worked for it, achieved it, and she ended the season with a legal breast stroke and a ribbon to show for it.  A ribbon she earned through true effort, not just for showing up.  Here she is in all her aquatic glory in lane 1…mute it if you want to spare your eardrums from my high-pitched screaming.  Olympics 2024, here we come!

Sarah radiant after her first LEGAL breast stroke!

Finally, a RIBBON!