Thursday, August 11, 2016

I Bow Before You, Olympic Moms

I admire the Olympic athletes, each and every one of them, from the gold medal contenders that everyone knows, like Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles, to the "also-rans" that most people have never heard of, like Ziv Kalontarov (Israeli swimmer) and Houry Gebeshian (Armenian gymnast) and Popole Misenga (Refugee team, judo). They may not be in medal contention, but their journey has involved just as much sacrifice, devotion, dedication, and discipline as the household name athletes - and maybe more. 

But there's another group of people that I admire greatly: the families of all those athletes. Whether you're watching your son, daughter, brother, sister, mom, or dad competing out there, the adrenaline rush is just as strong as those on the floor. In fact, the athletes are usually much calmer than their families up in the stands. 

Naturally, when it comes to nervous parents watching the Olympics, the first names that come to mind are the Raismans, parents of US gymnast Aly Raisman. They first came to notice during the 2012 Olympics, squirming in their seats as they watched their daughter perform, obviously trying to use sheer willpower to guide her to her best performance. They have apparently not lost any of their anxiety over the past 4 years, once again garnering notice as they clutch each other's hands, cover their faces, grimace, and burst into relieved and proud cheers after every routine. 

I'm sure they also made great sacrifices over the years for Aly's gymnastics career, paying for lessons and leotards and coaches and physical therapists and sports psychologists, driving to this meet and that competition, scrimping and saving to send Aly to the best gyms and eventually to the Karolyis' training ranch. No doubt, in other countries and at other levels, parents have to make even greater sacrifices to afford training and gyms and medical support, changing jobs and uprooting entire families to move to a better gym, a more prominent coach, a more promising opportunity. The Olympics are not only the culmination of their children's efforts and sacrifices, but of their own, as well.

Of course, every parent sacrifices for their child, whether it's taking a job they hate because it's a generous paycheck, or moving away from their hometown because schools are better somewhere else, or working a second job, or skipping that nice dinner to throw a couple hundred bucks into the 529 account, or hoarding coupons and searching sales to afford private music lessons or sports equipment or a tutor or whatever else their kid needs to become the best they can be.

But there's something different about sacrificing for a child that you recognize is remarkable in a greater context than most. I mean, my kids are remarkable in my eyes because they are MY kids and I adore them, but probably they won't be in contention for an Olympic medal, or a scholarship to Juilliard or MIT, or anything else that will end up in any kind of a record book. But that doesn't mean I won't make sacrifices for them, too.

But that's parenting, isn't it? As a mom, you sacrifice your body to have a child. As someone with a chronic medical issue, I sacrificed my health in order to have a healthy pregnancy. Because of my children, I now hide my right hand, which is twisted and deformed from rheumatoid arthritis, which flared during both my pregnancies, when my only medical option was prednisone, which leached the calcium from my bones and did not control my joint inflammation the way my usual medications (which could have caused birth defects in my children) did. But that was a sacrifice I gladly made for my children, foregoing my regular medications for several months after their births in order to nurse them for as long as possible and pass on what little immunity I had.

As an introvert and a shy person, I constantly fight my natural tendencies in order to help my children. I bring them to playdates, to public parks, to birthday parties - all of which terrify me - because it is good for them. I introduce myself to other parents, I invite their friend to playdates, I set up birthday parties that all make me want to huddle up in a ball and cry - because it will make them happy. I suck it up for my kids.

But these parents go far beyond sucking up. They do everything possible to allow their children the chance to make their mark on the make a set the bar higher than it has ever been before.

I admire that.