October 15, 2012

earning the yellow wrist band

Now that I have retro-blogged once about our summer in the States, the stories are coming to me like ducks to a bag of bread.  Bear with me.  Retrospect might be the rule for a while.

I forced the two older boys to take swimming lessons.  It was selfish, really.  I didn't want to have to watch them so carefully near water.  Neither of them were excited about it, but neither did they pitch a full-fledged fit.  I wasn't too excited myself, as it considerably cut-in to our furlough schedule. Daniel was perhaps the least excited, as he was the one who had to sit and roast on the hard bleachers of the indoor pool for 10, 45-minute sessions in a row.  He doesn't like to be hot.  Come to think of it, he doesn't like to be cold.


Bright and Zion were put into the same group.  The can't-swim-at-all group.  At seven, Bright was the oldest one.  Zion was one of the littlest, and cutest, with his prescription goggles and ill-fitting wetsuit shirt.  Without that shirt he would shiver so badly that the exposed ends of his foam noodle-float, which he was perched upon at the armpits, would wiggle uncontrollably.  Like his dad, Zion doesn't like to be cold.

The pair of them learned to swim, little by little each day.  By the fourth day, Zion had stopped crying and had started to smile at Ms. Anita, the ornery old swim teacher who stuffed herself into a black Speedo every day and who wasn't fooling anyone - she loved those kids no matter how much she griped at them.  By the end, Bright could swim 1/2 the length of the pool with no help before wearing out, and Zion 1/4 the length.  We were proud parents then, knowing that two of our four kids would not be goners if they slipped and fell into a Chinese fountain.  It was time for the reward we had promised since the beginning:  The Splash Zone, picture right, which is at the same indoor pool facility where the kids were taking lessons.  My hometown tends to do things a bit extravagantly.  Holland, Michigan.  Ever heard of it?  Best small town on the planet, if you ask me.

So, Splash Zone day finally came, and we coughed up the fee and my mom and I skipped mascara that morning so we could all have a grand, wet, teeth-chattering time.  We were happily enjoying toddler water wonderland when Bright asked if he could go in the huge, huge, huge (and very deep) practice pool off to our left.

"Sure," I said, "but you'll need to take that swimming test first."

He looked, and there stood a very ominous and tan life guard with a whistle, beside a line of shivering pubescent kids in sagging swim trunks, each waiting his turn to prove his swimming skills so he could hang out in the enormous pool.  Each kid was given a chance to swim to the marker, which looked about a mile away, and if he succeeded, he was given a yellow wrist band.  The wrist band that set apart the men from the boys.  The wrist band that my little Bright suddenly wanted with all of his heart.

"Honey, I don't know," I faltered.  I didn't want to see him fail in front of all these big kids and start crying.  Something like that might scar him, I thought.  But he was determined, so I let him get in line.  He looked like a midget, standing there with all those chin hairs and Justin Bieber haircuts.  He jumped in when his turn came, and that little guy powered himself half way to the marker, like a frightened kitten in a river, at which point he reached out and grabbed hold of the wall.  The whistle blew again, and he was signaled to leave the pool.  I waited for the tears.  I waited for the fit.  I got neither.

"I'm doing it again," he said, jaw set.  He was panting from exhaustion.  He had just swam farther than he had ever swam before, but it was only half of what was required for the wrist band.  I thought about protesting, but I instinctively knew that this was something my son was going to have to sort out on his own, just he and the pool and the preteens around him.  I nodded and he got back in line.  The same thing happened.  He might have made it a few feet farther, but he was a long shot from the marker.  He got right back in line and tried it a third time.  The life guard was getting a bit tired of seeing him, I think.  I could hardly bear it any longer when he finally decided he had had enough, and back to The Splash Zone we flapped.  I hated it, I really did.  I hated it for him.

Then the most unexpected thing happened.  Twenty minutes later, he announced that he was going to try it again.  I knew.  I just knew.  Like it had all happened before in a dream.  I knew that this time, somehow, he was going to do it.  And you know what?  He did.  He swam and swam and swam, a faraway look plastered serenely on his face, until he reached that marker and received the coveted yellow wrist band.  There were no shouts of joy, no immediate leap into that huge pool to use his new freedom.  In fact, he didn't want to swim in that pool at all.  He just didn't want to be told that he couldn't.  He quietly walked back to The Splash Zone and went back to the game he had been playing with his cousins.

He had faced his giant and won.