I didn’t cry when he left for his first day at high school. I really thought I would. I was all prepared to be emotional. I guess I was too prepared because I didn’t shed one tear.
Of course I didn’t let myself go to that place. You know that place where you start to think about how cute he was on his first day of kindergarten…in his little green and white striped shirt…carrying his blue LEGO backpack…and then you look at him now…all teenagery and skinny…with braces and worn out Vans…and how this is the beginning of the end…and there are only four years left before he’s going off all on his own. Yeah, THAT place. I didn’t let myself go there.
So I watched him walk down the street, towards high school. And then I followed him.
I kept a safe distance, mind you. I didn’t want to totally embarrass the poor kid. But the Golfer and I couldn’t help ourselves. We followed him to the corner of the busy intersection and after seeing that he had made it safely across, we let him go the rest of the way by himself. Then for the next seven hours we sat and stared at each other occasionally wondering out loud how his day was going, waiting for him to come home and hopefully tell us all about his first day.
We got our wish. He was quite chatty upon returning home. We made him start from the beginning, walking us through his whole day.
“And then during lunch, I decided to go to the counselor’s office and change my schedule. I dropped P.E. and I’m now in Swim Team Conditioning.”
I’m sorry. You did what? To quote Chevy Chase from the cinematic classic Christmas Vacation, I wouldn’t have been more surprised if I had woken up with with my head sewn to the carpet.
Putting aside the fact that we were proud of our son for taking the initiative to change his schedule on his own without the help of a parent, we were more than shocked at his choice. Was this a side effect of Rio? A reaction to watching to much Olympic coverage? No, he really hadn’t watched that much. So we could only ask one simple question. Why?
“I didn’t like P.E. and I didn’t have a lot of choices and swimming sounded fun.”
Let me remind you, our oldest has always been our child who will try anything. He’s tried everything out there. Football, basketball, art, T-ball, soccer, drums, tennis, golf…but there was one thing that he had never tried. Swimming. Competitive swimming. Sure, the kid is a great swimmer in our own pool. But actual competitive swimming against other people for, like, 100 meters at a time? Nope. Not even close. We weren’t even sure that he could do a single lap in our small pool without being completely out of breath. So we did what most parents would do. We panicked.
“Buddy. You know that swimming out here is, like, crazy competitive. And the kids in that class want to, you know, actually be on the swim team. And they are on club swim teams. And they go to meets, like, every weekend all year long. And they take it super seriously. And the coach, well, he probably doesn’t want kids in that class to just fart around. And you don’t have any experience, I mean, outside of just goofing off in the pool. And do you even know how to do all of the strokes. And…”
We went on and on and on. We went totally negative all over our son who had just walked in the door after a great first day of high school. He had walked in all happy like Bill Clinton with a bunch of balloons and we had popped every…single…one.
And then our sweet, 14 year old high schooler looked at us with sadness in his eyes and defeat in his voice and said, “Well, fine. I just won’t swim then.”
That’s when the Golfer and I looked at each other, realizing what we had done. We had smacked labels of “You Can’t” and “You’re Not Good Enough” all over our son. We had pooped all over his excitement. We had totally and absolutely failed as parents in that moment. We had allowed our fears to take over. Fear was driving the school bus and this wasn’t acceptable. As the author Elizabeth Gilbert says, fear can ride in the back seat but it can’t choose the radio station.
Seeing the disappointment from our son forced us to quickly get over ourselves. So our son had no competitive swimming experience. So what! There wasn’t a competitive swimming prerequisite to be in the class, so why were we so worried? And here’s the thing…What if! What if he really got into swimming and found out that he really liked it? What’s the worse that can happen? That our son get a great workout doing an exercise that’s really good for you? What’s the harm in that? Is he going to be the next Michael Phelps? Shit no. But even Michael Phelps had to start somewhere.
Turns out our son has some buddies in the class who are swimmers and is making new friends in the class as well. Are they making fun of him because he’s not very good? No! Quiet the opposite actually. They are all encouraging and helpful and kind. The coach seems extremely nice and loves to teach new competitive swimmers. Our son is even talking about wanting to try out for the JV team in the spring. Crazy I tell you. As crazy as if I had woken up with my head sewn to the carpet.
And speaking of crazy, I now have to go buy a Speedo.