Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Swim meets & my history of hugging
The friendly woman in charge of organizing parent volunteers for the Saturday evening swim meet marathon asked me what I’d like to do that evening.
I told her I’d like to just sit in the stands and read my book.
She laughed and laughed.
She thought I was kidding.
People have been asking me if having my daughter, 13, involved in the swim club has been as bad as I thought it would be. They remember me predicting it would for me be torturous.
So has it been all that bad?
Of course, it has. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’m one of those guys who’d rather be prophetic and miserable than wrong and serene.
But I’ve managed to roll with the punches -- mostly because I duck behind my wife and let her field the brunt of the blows.
She does it all. She sells the tickets, does most of the driving and all the volunteering. She attends the meetings and sets the schedules. There’s no doubt she’s the primary care giver when it comes to seeing to the abundant needs of our children. She does it all for me, too!
But she was away this weekend down in Florida visiting her father and sister. She said she needed a break.
So it fell to me to fulfill our family swim meet obligations; every family has to do volunteer duty at the endless meets that can involve timekeeping, rules, runners, handing out ribbons, etc. None of it appealed to me.
I kept listening and hoping she’d mention the one area in which I had some experience.
I was hoping she’d say she needed some huggers.
I am a great hugger and once had a certificate to prove it.
It was 1985 at Ohio University in Athens. I was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity. Back then each fraternity needed to fulfill certain philanthropic, social and scholarship requirements to remain in good standing with the host university.
I don’t know whether this remains the case anymore or not. Because the year after I graduated, all the morons I’d handpicked to lead us into the future got our fraternity thrown off campus for abysmal grades and chronic drunkenness.
I didn’t know whether to be ashamed or proud.
But one of our philanthropic events while I was there was volunteering at the local Special Olympics. We were told we’d be dealing with mentally challenged individuals who had joyful hearts, but diminished decision-making capacities that led them to act impulsively.
I guess they picked us Sigma Nus because the description neatly fit about half our brothers.
Like the swim meet, they needed timekeepers, scorers, etc. And they needed one category that was absent at the swim meet.
They needed huggers.
I raised my hand.
I was told to station myself at the finish line and give all these special needs kids big, euphoric hugs whenever one of them crossed the finish line.
I remember standing there as the first contestant completed the race. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I remember he crossed the finish line and just kept going full speed like there was no finish line.
I ran after him, hauled him into my arms and as I was told to do exalted, “You did great! Congratulations! I’m so happy for you!”
I don’t know who got more out of the hugs.
Looking back on the experience, I’m surprised I didn’t right then and there give up my dreams of being a writer and instead pursue a life of professional hugging.
It was such a joyful experience and, heck, hugging strangers couldn’t have paid much worse than newspapers.
At the swim meet, I wound up giving out second place ribbons. Most of the kids were too conditioned to be cool to be seen acting happy about getting a stupid ribbon.
Some of the older kids -- talk about cool -- wouldn’t even take one.
Their reactions didn’t influence me. I even kept one for myself. It’s right now pinned to my shirt!
The great thing was I didn’t screw up even once. Well, I would have but the other parents were all so nice they saved me multiple times from giving the wrong kids the ribbon, getting in the way or falling into the pool.
One guy in particular was very helpful. I think he sensed I was nervous, a little dim and needed extra attention.
It’s probably a good thing I didn’t tell him about my history with the Special Olympics.
Might have confused him.
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