Last summer we enrolled Jack in the local and quite popular junior lifeguard camp. We were new to the area, and hadn’t been introduced to this program before even though we grew up just thirty minutes north. Most of Jack’s friends were signed up, so we crossed our fingers and geared him up for one of the most physically rigorous and competitive activities he’d ever participated in. The depth of Jack’s soul, his tenacity and determination have endlessly surprised me in the last two years, culminating around his experience in Little Guards.
This year Zoe was old enough to participate, too. For several weeks in a row, every single day for three hours we bring them both to the beach clad in signature red suits and slathered in sunscreen. It’s a rite of passage for these beach kids, a community staple in the lives of so many families for generations. They are methodically indoctrinated in the religion of the sea, learning to respect the ocean, each other and their own bodies. Training consists of long distance runs, swimming in the ocean with and without boogie boards, team relays and competitions. Far greater than the physical aspect is the incentive and discovery of self motivation, dedication and mind/body communication. They are learning at such a young age what it means to push their physical and mental limits and the power of strong communication with their own spirit and those of their peers.
I wouldn’t immediately say that Jack and Zoe are competitive by nature. They like to one-up each other constantly, but I chalked that up to their close ages and sibling bond. Junior Guards sparked a fire in both of them in their inaugural runs, inspiring them to exceed their own expectations once they felt the jazz of the metaphorical flame that was lit being put into such new and strenuous situations. With much less emphasis being placed around competing with each other, Little Guards inspires kids to communicate with each other to achieve a common goal and the value that comes with understanding how to work well with others. I was still taken aback by watching Jack and Zoe push themselves in order to place in certain challenges; Zoe came in 5th during the long distance swim, while Jack placed in a boogie board relay with his team.
With the overwhelming elation that I felt watching them succeed came the equally crushing blow of watching them both trying and sometimes not meeting their own expectations. Last year I found myself in tears more than a few times as I watched the sense of determination on Jack’s face melt in to complete defeat and exasperation. My protective instincts kicked into full gear, even though I knew better than to get involved and that this was precisely the instance in which I needed to allow things to happen as they must. They both learned the hard way what it feels like to lose, and I’ve never quite felt that as a parent until our experience in Little Guards. This year they were both more mature and accepting of every situation presented, and it was a poignant and momentous day for me watching them compete in the Competitions and thoroughly understanding and accepting the victories and the consequences. They both excelled in so many ways, but their maturity really bowled me over. I’m getting used to this new phase of parenthood of having big kids, a transition that I can’t say has been entirely an easy one for me.
Aside from my own hangups about them growing up, I am in absolute awe of who they are and that I am so privileged to witness the glimpses of who they will be. These new situations and different challenges expose the tender underbelly of the babies that we all are, the very raw core of human existence.