Pressing the Mute Button Underwater

I’m just old enough to remember Greg Louganis’ dive in the 1988 Olympics, when he […]

Carrie Willard / 7.18.19

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 break his head on a diving board while twisting his body in the air. And 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.

When I hear the diving announcer, 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 again with the commentary after what I thought were pretty good dives. And even after the damn-near-perfect ones, the commentator had a long pause and said, “I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about that.” Wow. High praise.

The 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 because OMG their precious heads. 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. As a nerd, I’m addicted to the parent portal that shows me their grades. I try *so hard* to not micromanage and 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. I’m working on it.

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. (See: the teacher who told my fifth grader that the standardized tests would influence his ability to GET A JOB AFTER GRADUATION.)

As a parent, I see my job as chilling the heated atmosphere around testing. I tell the kids to fill in the bubbles and 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 (WHYYYYYYYYY), and 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 I can also see 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 whatever it’s worth, my kids perform well on these tests, which is completely not the point. I realize that gives me privilege in not caring too much about them. But if even the high-performing kids are freaked out and their parents are over it, imagine the kids who cannonball straight through the diving competition. I don’t think more pressure and more analysis is the answer.

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 the diving announcer in my head (“ooooohhhhh, that’s unfortunate”), and not enough moments of free silence.

Ironically, given the diving commentary, I’ve been finding that moment 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’m 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 more between me and the water? And underwater, designed 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 our pool. It looks like the Red Cross first aid cross. It’s probably just a focal point. 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 is what makes this possible for me.


Featured image: HBO.

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2 responses to “Pressing the Mute Button Underwater”

  1. I love this one. I love all of them, but I really love this one. I never thought of it as being a cross at the end of the lane. It tells swimmers when do start their flip turn. I think the cross is powerful enough to get us to flip around when we are not paying attention to our words and deeds.

  2. Linda Klitzke says:

    Yes, it is all true, and beautifully said. I can identify with Heather’s comment as well. Never take a good swim for granted particularly in the case of silencing everything else. The voice that is truly yours will always sound clear as with any great silence.

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