Even though I’ve heard different variations on the same story dozens of times, I still smile at the innocence of new swim parents who think a volunteer shift in heating means that they’ll be fetching the kids blankets and plying them with hot chocolate.
Heating means that instead of having one or two kids who ignore everything you say, you will have anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred who do the same, and it’s your responsibility to herd them in an orderly fashion from their tents to the blocks while handing them a card along the way — a card which they will eat, mutilate, or (worst case scenario) lose.
Most of the time you don’t even know all their names, so you can’t shriek after them except to say, “Hey…hey…HEY YOU!”
You will ask their names, multiple times. Sometimes they will tell you. If they’re five or six, they will look up at you blankly.
You will answer the same questions, multiple times. One kid will ask if you’re heating Event 39. You will say no. He will remain standing in front of you, and the kid next to him — who just heard you tell the first kid that no, you’re not heating Event 39 — will ask if you’re heating Event 39. Then those kids’ mothers will ask if you’re heating Event 39. You will tell them all that you’re still heating Event 24 and that they ought to go have a beer.
The mothers will not think this is funny. The kids will ignore you.
When you actually are heating Event 39, those two kids will be a mile away on the elementary school playground. Their mothers will be out having a beer. Probably.
You will have to send someone to find those kids. When they are located, you will advise them that they are late and nearly missed their race. They will cry to their mothers, and their mothers will yell at you for upsetting them. Now you want a beer too.
You will miss your own children’s races. This will hurt more than your sore throat at the end of the meet.
But you will also get to know all the kids on your team. You will feel genuine affection for every last one of them, no matter how poorly they listen or how many times you had to chase them down. You will jump up and down with excitement when they break records, and you will hug them when they DQ. You will grin at the little ones, paddling a single length with all their might, and you will marvel at the form and grace of the teens who have logged fourteen long years of swimming.
And you will wish that your job description really did entail doling out blankets and hot chocolate.