Ben joined Swim Team at our country club this summer. This is never something we considered because of Ben’s endurance, but after talking to a friend at the pool on Memorial Day, we decided it might work. The team is great! Cheerful and kind coaches, fun team spirit, pep rallies, uniforms, and secret cheers. From the first practice, Ben has jumped right in! He works harder, psychically, than he ever has and comes out of the pool grinning ear-to-ear and saying “Whew!! That was a great workout!”
Last Saturday, after daily practice for two weeks, it was time for time trials. For guppies like me, that means each swimmer (who is willing and able) swims the length of the pool in any or all of the strokes. Not knowing what the heck he was doing (with no help from his parents but encouragement), a coach asked Ben if he was ready to give a lap a try during his age level’s turn at the Freestyle. He said he would after the coach offered to get in with him to help him across.
Well, it was kind of, um, embarrassing. All the other nine year olds finished across in a timely manner. But Ben froze. I should explain that this was A) The first time he has ever been in a deep end of any pool despite swim lessons his whole life and B) The first time a “lap” had ever entered his vocabulary even after 10 days of practice with the team. These were definitely uncharted waters.
So he got in, swam about 10 strokes and stopped, with two thirds of the pool still left to swim. The coach was so encouraging and helpful but all eyes at the pool were silently on him and he seemed to forget everything he had learned. Dave and I froze too. We were glued to our lounge chairs and didn’t know what the heck to do! My heart wanted to scoop him out and run to the car to “protect” him. I finally got up and walked to the lifeguard chair and hid behind it, holding my breath for him. And then…the head coach started cheering. “Ben! Ben! Ben!” And then the crowd started cheering. They cheered him all the way to the end. And he finished with the help of his coach.
So here he was, this swimming miracle who was forced into the deep end with an audience of many to do the “impossible.” His whole life wrapped up in 5 minutes. A challenge, an audience, and lots of help and encouragement along the way to the finish. Yeah, he finished slower than his peers. Yeah he was less coordinated and more exhausted than his peers, but he did it.
When he got out, he was cold, shaken and tearful. I met him with a towel and my own tears and we talked about his feelings. He said he was embarrassed. As a 38 year old, with a lifetime case of self-consciousness, I felt for him. Big time. And selfishly, for myself too. We haven’t made many friends at our club (despite being members for 3 years) and not having our tribe with us while all eyes were on him, was unnerving. I tried my hardest to shut my brain up and to focus on Ben and his feelings.
Thankfully, his tears quickly stopped (so mine did too) and we made our way to Dave. By the time we got there, Ben was smiling again, watching the video Dave took and then saying he wished they would put the video on the (non-existent) jumbotron so everyone could watch it all again. What!!?? Was he crazy!? I was ready to pack up, leave and never come back. And he wanted to stay, cheer on his teammates and watch his performance all over again with the crowd! Unbelievable!
Needless to say, I continue to learn so much from both of my brilliant children. Ben’s resilience, self-confidence, positivity and composure is almost more impressive than all that he is overcoming in his life. On a daily basis, still, I’m wondering what someone thinks of my outfit, my hairstyle, my kids’ cute clothes, my writing ;), my personality, and my “image.” And here’s a kid that’s so different than the norm who thinks everything is awesome about himself and doesn’t care if others are looking, judging or admiring. He wants to be liked. He wants to be admired. And he wants to be valuable. But he’s so self assured that if the opposite is true, he just keeps swimming.
We can all learn a lot from Ben. I’m so thankful God gave him to me and so aware of all I’m supposed to learn from him. Including how to rock a swim cap, goggles and swim shirt with pride!