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High Expectations and Healthy Competition

I make life hard for myself; I know I do. I don’t allow my kids to watch television or play video games during the week. And on the weekends, not so much either. They must do their homework just after arriving home from school. And I have high expectations grade-wise. They must get all A’s and B’s and never, ever disrespect their teachers or classmates. “School is a privilege and you go to learn,” I repeat during each morning’s ride to school like a mantra.

I say “no” a lot and for example, don’t believe you’re entitled to a new backpack and sneakers just because it’s the start of a new year. If your old kicks still fit and are holding out well, let’s clean them up a bit and wear them down to the bone. Likewise with toys. Busy yourself with the thousands you already have and find creative new ways to play with it all. Your imagination is greater than mine, so go get lost in it.

I do take shortcuts, however. No, not with their daily hygiene regime or administration of chores, but with food. I’m not radical or fanatical with their diets and don’t think Whole Foods is the Holy Grail. I don’t subscribe to purchasing only certified organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, low-sodium, locally-grown---whatever. (Yes, we try to support local farmers and buy “healthier” foods when our budget permits, but is it my mission to do so? Sorry, but no.) They eat fruits and veggies daily, are only allowed water, milk and an occasional glass of juice to drink and eat lots of chicken! (It’s one of the only things I know how to make.) Their eyes sparkle, teeth are pearly white and all relish good complexions. They’re fine.

And they have more energy than a nuclear power plant, I suppose. So that’s why a month ago I found myself giddy with excitement about something I’ve dreamt of since they were toddlers. You see, when first-married, my husband told me a story that forever stuck in my mind. Growing up in Costa Rica, one of his classmates was an unruly boy; aggressive, disruptive in class and picking fights left and right. His mother, in her infinite wisdom, recognized her son’s “naughty” tendencies and inserted him into a high-intensity swimming program five days a week, for 1.5 hours before school began. And all his friends, my husband included, thought his mom was a Nazi for doing do.

However, within a short span of months, this swimmer’s turnaround was nothing short of miraculous. Not only did this training routine inculcate the invaluable lessons of discipline and focus, but consequently, he mellowed out. His grades improved remarkably as did his relationships as a result of having this unbridled energy re-channeled.

So when I saw the flyer displayed at the entrance to my kids’ school, I was inspired and knew the Universe had sent me a sign. So today, four of my five children, ages 6-11 participate in competitive swimming. And they love it! Their skills improve by leaps and bounds almost daily. They love to compete; sometimes they win, sometimes they don't. They swim 1.5 hours a day four days a week and already, the positive ripple affect is taking effect. They bicker less, eat better---my kids aren’t big eaters----have more self-confidence and increased concentration while studying and reading.

So, what’s the price I pay for being a watered down version of Tiger Mom you ask? And being hands-on 24/7 to keep my kids’ minds sharp and bodies conditioned? One word: Exhaustion.

But that’s okay because it’s an investment in their futures; the transferable skills they continue to learn will help them excel and succeed in tomorrow’s increasingly competitive world.

And I can rest assured that my little competitors will always strive to do their best in all facets of their lives.

Find me on twitter @darahzeledon