By Laura Simon

If you need me between now and February 25, you need only check the space in front of my TV. In general, we aren’t a TV-watching family, but I make an exception for the Olympics. Bedtime, screen time limits…it all goes out the window for two weeks. I justify this by telling myself that my kids are getting a full-blown geography and culture lesson…and hopefully they’re also learning a few things about sportsmanship. (Dear Olympians, please come through on this one, OK?)

I was a competitive swimmer growing up, so the Olympics were my life goal. Like all athletes in the “lesser” sports, I didn’t have a Super Bowl to strive for. Or March Madness. Or the World Series. I had the Olympics, with all their magic. My sixteen-year-old self longed to get a tattoo of the Olympic rings. In retrospect, one should probably make the actual team before investing in something so permanent. Neither the team nor the tattoo happened for me, in part because the state of Ohio requires parents to sign off for minors to get tattoos. Bless my parents for refusing to entertain even the slightest bit of that nonsense. And for paying for over a decade of swim team, which I can assure you is NOT cheap.

Even as an adult, I’ve found that the Olympic mystique remains. So in anticipation of this year’s run, I cleared our calendar and added extra boxes of tissues to my grocery order. Maybe I forgot to mention that part. Not only will I be sitting in front of the TV…I’ll also be crying like a baby.

I started crying when the preview commercials came on weeks (months?) ago. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? The ones with the moms cheering on their kids, picking them up, and wiping their boo-boos. And I’ll keep right on crying through every night and every event. I cry every time someone wins big, and I cry every time they lose big. I cry at medal ceremonies and special interest stories and commercials. And now that I’m a mom myself, I cry every time the camera pans to the parents in the audience.

I didn’t get that angle when I was a kid. The Olympics were all about the winner. But now I look at those parents and I see myself.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no inclination that my kids are Olympic material. My oldest spent his first soccer season trying to use the cones as a periscope, and now that my oldest two boys have joined the swimming ranks, I think the best ribbon we’ve gotten is fifth place. Out of six. We celebrated big.

Rooting my kids on, at least for me, is so much more than cheering for an Olympic medal. I look at those parents in the Olympic stands, and I see myself holding my breath while the child I swore would never ride a bike made it all the way across the cul-de-sac. I see myself willing my five-year-old, who had never managed to swim a full 25 yards of anything, taking one minute and fifty seconds to do it in a meet. (Side note: generally, one should learn to swim and then sign up for a meet. Lesson learned.) I see my heart swelling up when the same child cut his time to forty-one seconds six months later, even though he still managed to come in dead last. I see myself shrieking a scream of joy when the kid who struggles with reading and focus actually finishes reading a story without melting down.

The Olympic parent stands out as a pillar of sacrifice and heroic support. Special shout out to Aly Raisman’s parents, who are quite possibly my favorite people I’ve never met. If anyone embodies what we all feel when our children do hard things, I’d have to give that award to them. Every time Aly competes, they look like they’re riding a literal roller-coaster, willing their daughter to success with every ounce of their physical strength. I watch them and worry about their blood pressure. I also know exactly how they feel.

Sure, I haven’t paid for thousands of hours of gym time, and I’m only in my first year of driving the shuttle to sports practices, but I’ve already put in a heap of late nights, early mornings, messes, tears, and frustrations. And that was just the infant months. This parenting thing is hard. Hard, I tell you.

But then you get to see your kid master that thing that eluded them. You see them take steps. You see them dive in. You see the seeds of character start to take root. You see the dream form in their hearts. You see their courage start to grow. Maybe, if you’re really special, you get to see them get a medal on a podium. But even if you don’t, it’s worth it.

All of it.