There are a lot of distractions today for kids and their parents. X Box, Play Station, soccer, baseball, organized teams, with all kinds of practices, games and meets. So much more than when I grew up in a less harried environment. Parents today rush around hauling their kids to multiple events and the logistics are mind boggling. Video games offer entertainment while parents tend to catch up on their own lives, but life is gas pedal to the floor in most households today. My parents did a lot for my sister and me back in the day, but the center of most of the activity was the community pool. Moms tended to be stay at home in those days and as they lined up in their chaise lounges every day in what the guards called “hysterectomy row”, they cheered us on in our practices and meets with the swim team.
I was a decent swimmer back then but only had a limited repertoire. I could not swim the butterfly, backstroke was weird and I kept hitting the lane markers, freestyle was good for 25 meters and then I was fried. But I could swim the breastroke all day because it was a natural stroke for me. Problem was that I had some pretty good competition with the Rose brothers, Dru Duffy and Johnny Kane who were all talented breastrokers and I battled out the time trials in order to compete in the meets. Sometimes I was successful and sometimes not but it was a good lesson for me that anything that you wanted in life, you had to work for and there were winners and losers. Not everyone got a trophy, medal, or ribbon for just showing up – you had to learn to be a gracious winner and an equally gracious loser. I swam in the winters too at the Allegheny YMCA on the northside of Pittsburgh in a rather rough neighborhood. I saw fights, stabbings, police chases, and other various and sundry activities but my mom was steadfast in her belief that I should see all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. My folks exposed us to a lot of athletic activities but interestingly, they were not athletic at all and had very little interest other than they thought these activities would be good for Molly and me.
The final activity of the summer/early fall after all the swim meets were over, was the annual Father-Daughter, Mother-Son relay where the parents had the opportunity to show off their prowess much to the delight of their kids and their friends. As my mom lined up on the other side of the pool, she was on stage in her new suit and matching flowered bathing cap. As the gun went off, she was the last one in the pool and began what she lovingly referred to as “The Allegheny Crawl.” This was an odd stroke that was a combination breastroke/freestyle with a weak flutter kick that propelled my mom by the minutes instead of seconds as she flailed her way dramatically towards me. She smiled at her friends and at me as if to say,” I will get there – be patient.” Edna Kane had already touched the wall and John took off while I sat on the block waiting for my mom to “crawl” her way to the end of her lap. With my little pot belly and Speedo at ready, I was amazed to see that the race was already over by the time my mom touched the wall and the silence of the crowd was deafening as I swam furiously to the other end of the pool. The cheering was long over and my finish as an “also-ran” was a little humiliating. But I smiled and congratulated my mom who was holding court and laughing with her friends. But perhaps the most rewarding moment for my mom was to see my dad’s eyes as he hugged her with pride for attempting the event in the first place. My mom and dad were always there for each other and my sister and I were always in second place. They had a great marriage and it was evident in scenes like this when the pride in my dad’s eyes completely overshadowed the performance of the McCloskey mother- son relay team. The little guy holding the corner of the flag is me with my rival but good friend Johhny Kane to my left.
Things were a lot less complicated in those days and the lessons learned at the community pool have lasted with me for a while now. The competition, the practices, the atmosphere where all the kids and moms were safe and sound at the pool was comforting. The lesson for me was that as much as we have tried to do for our kids and as much as generations will do in the future, the main thing is to put your spouse first like my folks did. As the relays ended and the years at the pool marched on, I knew looking at my folks that all was well with the world when I saw the love in their eyes. They rushed us to meets, practices, and all kinds of events like many of us do with our kids at great personal expense. But the main focus was on each other. I can imitate the Allegheny Crawl today and we all have a good chuckle out of that, but even though mom was not as fast as Edna Kane, she was stylish in her own way- crawling or not. Long live Valley Brook Swim Club. Thanks for reading.