New scary things

Originally Appeared in : 9816-8/2/18

For the sixth or seventh year in a row, my husband Paul was a “shepherd” for a summer league swim team. For those of you who have not enjoyed the complicated love affair that summer league brings, let me explain.


Summer swim team involves weekly meets that last well into the night and include hundreds of speedo-clad swimmers, ranging in age from four to 18, crowded around a neighborhood pool swimming events in increments of 25 yards. It is one of the most intense and beautiful things I’ve ever witnessed and I won’t lie, the first season we participated in swim team (Ethan was six and Elliott was four) I got emotional every single time. There is so much camaraderie and joy, parents all standing around the edge of the pool screaming their guts out for every kid trying to get from one end of the lane to the other.


The shepherds are those parent and teen volunteers who get all these swimmers where they need to be. This year it was no big deal for my husband to shepherd 13, 9 and 10-year-old boys. He has done this so many times before that he calmly does his job of finding each of the swimmers signed up for each particular race. He finds those boys (not always an easy task, as those of you with young sons know), and he gets them to the correct side of the pool and the corresponding lane.


He is a rock star.


Years ago, I don’t know that he could have done this with such ease. Paul swam summer league, so a lot of this makes sense to him. But dealing with large packs of other peoples’ boys isn’t something everyone just gets. You learn to manage these things over time.


Summer league always ends with a giant end-of-the-year swim meet that involves the four or five area teams that competed against each other during the season. It’s hundreds of swimmers gathered into the area’s indoor training pool. It’s hot, jam-packed, high octane and completely overwhelming.


This year, a mom new to summer league found Paul at the beginning of the meet. Her son was overwhelmed; she was overwhelmed; all of it was too much. She told Paul through tears that no one was telling her anything and that her son didn’t even want to swim.


Paul was able to gently calm her down, and when I saw that mom a few days later, she was grateful for Paul’s kindness. She also said she would be willing to help future first timers with any questions they might have. Getting through these things is half the battle. She was a little embarrassed that she had cried, but also just glad she made it through.


I was thinking of this dear woman recently as I was lost on a college campus. Charlie and I were arriving at his college orientation, right on time but also not where we were supposed to be. I had turned the car around for what I hoped was the last time and if my son had not been sitting right next to me I would have started to cry. I was frustrated and overwhelmed and dealing with that dreadful feeling of just not knowing what to do.


We got it worked out, found our way and within an hour we were sitting in orientation and it was starting to make sense. What a relief. “New things are a pain,” I remarked to Charlie, remembering all the times I have been new — in a new place, doing a new thing. It’s so nice to be the seasoned veteran, and much more challenging to be the newbie.


And here I am, in another new season of parenting — the college years. It’s scary, and really exciting too. The beautiful part of parenting is all the ways you grow and learn and get stronger with these adventures your children bring. New to swim team. New to elementary school. New to college. Life is full of adventure — and a big part of adventure includes the unknown. That’s what makes it scary. That’s what makes it exciting.


Rachel Swenson Balducci is a freelance writer and member of Most Holy Trinity Church, Augusta. She can be reached at

Go to top