Silencing the Diving Commentators

Tuning Out the Microscopic Evaluation of Performance

Mockingbird / 3.19.21

This article by Carrie Willard was originally printed in the recent “Sports Issue” of the Mockingbird magazine. To get this issue, or past and future issues, click here.

I’m just old enough to remember Greg Louganis’ dive in the 1988 Olympics, when he cracked his head on the diving platform and suffered a concussion. I’m too chicken to Google it, but given the speed that divers exit the platform and the proximity of their skulls to the hard surface, Greg Louganis can’t be the only guy in history to smack his head on a diving board while twisting his body in the air. So my standard for a “good dive” is pretty low. If you don’t break your noggin or bounce off your butt, you’re a good diver in my book.

Not the case for the experts, though. When you hear the diving commentator, especially the one who sounds eerily like Holly Hunter but not quite as charming, ver­bally clutch her pearls because someone made “too big of a splash,” I die a little inside. No broken head or banged-up butt? You win. I can’t even really tell the difference be­tween a little splash and a medium splash, to be honest. I watched a diving competition on television this week, and I was struck with the commentary after what I thought were pretty good dives. Even after the damn-near-perfect ones, the commentator gave a long pause and merely said, “I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about that.” Wow. High praise.

Microscopic evaluation of performance is nothing new, and even if it’s not getting worse over time, it can feel that way. My kids will never be competitive divers, probably because I would make them wear a helmet. But like thousands of school children all over the coun­try and every public school student in Texas, they are subjected to rigorous standardized tests. As a parent, I live for affirmations that they’re succeeding, or at least treading water. I’m ad­dicted to the parent portal that shows me their grades. I try — so hard — to not micromanage them and to let them be, but I won’t deny the little ping of satisfaction every time they get a good grade or a compliment from a teacher. I try to be cool about it, but I’m not cool about it. I’m working on that.

But with standardized tests, I’ve made a con­certed effort to be hands-off. For one thing, they’re notorious for being poorly written, poorly administered, and a poor indicator of a student’s actual learning abilities or knowledge. They’re horrible. For another thing, there are already plenty of people freaking my poor kids out about these stupid tests (i.e., the teacher who told my fifth grader that the tests would influence his ability to “get a job after graduation”).

As a parent, I think my job is to cool the heat­ed atmosphere around testing. I tell the kids to fill in the bubbles, and I send them on their way. I’m fairly sure that’s all an eleven-year-old needs to hear. The results of these tests aren’t easily ac­cessible to parents. You need to know the kid’s social security number, so half the time, I don’t even bother to check the score. If they don’t pass, I’m just assuming someone will tell me. To be clear, it’s not that I’m not curious. I’m just too lazy to find their social security numbers.

When I do make the effort to log into the test administrator system, I have the ability to micromanage every bit of their post-testing ex­perience. I can see not only their score, where their score lands in comparison to their class­mates, and where their score lands relative to the rest of the students their age in the state of Texas, but also exactly which questions they got wrong or right.

This is too much. As much as I love their achievements in spite of myself, I don’t want this level of detail.

I tried just not checking the scores this year. And then the middle school (which is in the same district as the elementary school) required that we submit my child’s test scores to register the child for middle school. Oh, the humanity! I’ve made this concerted effort not to care, and now they’re making me care. Or at least care enough to find a printer. Lord, have mercy. I try to be the whisper of grace in all of this law-monger­ing, and the world is making this very difficult.

This is all starting to feel like the post-div­ing analysis. The splash is just slightly too big, and now EVERYBODY HAS AN OPINION ABOUT IT.

For what it’s worth, my kids perform well on these tests, which is completely not the point, but I realize that gives me the privilege of not caring too much about them. But if even the high-performing kids are freaked out, imagine the kids who cannonball straight through the diving competition. In short, more pressure and more analysis are probably not the answers.

I thirst for a non-analyzed moment. A min­ute or two without feedback. A moment where the Yelp review in my head shuts up about par­enting and performance and test scores. I’ve got plenty of diving commentators in my head, and not enough moments of free silence.

Ironically, I’ve been finding I can quiet the diving commentary in the pool. Our commu­nity lap pool is an oasis in a world of noise. It smells like cedar, and the water is just cool enough. My body, which doesn’t normally feel loose and free, lets go of tension and just ex­ists in the water. I have a crooked spine and a complicated relationship with my jawline. My kidneys sprouted extra tubes at some point be­fore I was born, which is another thing that gets analyzed and picked apart by specialists every few years. I am not an athlete. My feet are huge. Now that I’m done nursing babies, I’d just as soon turn in my reproductive sys­tem to science. My body doesn’t often feel like my friend.

But I can swim. I can swim for a long time. It makes me feel strong and free at the same time. I sometimes feel like I’m forgetting something as I dip into the water — shouldn’t I have more armor on? Shouldn’t there be more between me and the water?

Underwater, laid into the tile at each end of the pool, is a cross. I don’t know why there’s a cross at each end of the pool. It looks like the first aid cross. It’s probably just a focal point for swimmers. But I see that cross, and I see just a very brief forecast of the acceptance I feel in Je­sus. I float freely, try to ignore the time clock, and just swim. The crooked spine and imperfections disappear underwater, if only for a moment, and if only in my mind.

There will be no end to the analysis and com­mentary. My kids are just at the beginning of this, and their job will be to learn to tune out the noise and focus on the feedback that mat­ters to them. I honestly don’t see a way out of it in our rule-bound world and our law-bound hearts. My wish for my kids, and for all of us, is a dip into the cool waters of grace. We need a glimpse of the kingdom where we aren’t mea­sured, timed, and analyzed to death. The view of the cross in the lap pool is what makes this possible for me.

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One response to “Silencing the Diving Commentators”

  1. Ricky says:

    Thanks for the article Carrie – we have a two year old, but I can already sense some of the layers of “law” that are around parents with article after article, special after special, and blog after blog about the “right” way to do things.

    I really do think the idea of Christ redeeming us from the curse of the law pointed to times like these, where law starts piling up so thick and heavy that it overwhelms us to try to follow it all.

    There are some who think the end times will bring some kind of massive cataclysm that will cause all our technology to grind to a halt at once. I’ve started to wonder if it’s not that at all. What if the technology actually won’t break down. What if it just keep getting more and more pervasive until it overwhelms all except those who are walking in the Spirit and following a different set of laws.

    Sorry, a bit of a heavy interpretation of your article, but I do think it’s good to hear someone talk about this.

    Thanks for writing!

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