As soon as we enter the area that holds the indoor pool, my eight-year-old heads for the deep water. The other boys splash about in the shallow end, but Knox dips and dives down deep. I catch my breath a few times when I don’t see him emerge from the depths immediately, but I breathe a sigh of relief when his wet blonde head breaks the surface of the water.
Despite being so young, he is big and strong and powerful. He is at least a head taller than most of his classmates. He laughs easily and makes friends quickly. He likes to be part of the crowd. In spite of all that, he has quit just about every sport and activity he has started. And this frustrates me to no end.
“It’s too hard,” he will say.
“I don’t want to practice,” he will complain.
“Why can’t I just play video games? I’m good at that,” he states firmly.
As a result, his growing body is putting on more weight than it should. And I’m worried.
I encourage, I cajole, but I stop short of forcing him to participate because I sense the meaning behind his words.
He is worried he won’t be any good. He is afraid of failing.
I know this feeling. I am the queen of this feeling. I mourn the missed opportunities of my youth because of this feeling.
It breaks my mama heart to see him missing out on activities and companionship and physical fitness all because of this feeling.
I can’t make him do something he doesn’t want to do, and I’ve struggled with that a lot lately.
Suddenly, his aunt, who is a swim instructor, enters the pool. She asks him if he’s been practicing his “big arms” and compliments his form. A sly smile crosses his lips as he looks down into the water. She sets off to do laps before her lessons begin, and I see Knox swimming back and forth in the lane next to her.
I watch his slow and steady strokes and awkward kicks, and I pray that he will make it to the end of the pool. Not only does he make it to the end, but he turns and comes back. He’s good. He’s really, really good.
He completes several more laps, focused, slow, and steady.
I head over to tell him it’s time to dry off and go home. He is breathless, but determined.
“Wow, Bud, you swam back and forth a lot! Way to go,” I try to be casual with my comment.
“Yeah, it was pretty easy,” he shrugs with bravado like boys his age do.
“Aunt Nancy says there’s a swim team, and kids from your school are on it. Wouldn’t that be fun?” I hold the suggestion out tenuously; ready to reel it back in.
“Yeah . . .” he starts again, unsure this time, “what if I can’t breathe under the water?” There it is. The fear of something specific that holds him back. “What if I can’t do it?”
I hand him his towel and touch his wet shoulder. “That’s why you practice,” I answer gently. “You will be able to do it. Trying IS doing,” I answer firmly.
I can’t tell him he’s good, that he will BE good at anything. He has to believe it himself.
He seems satisfied with my answer, and I am hopeful he will realize himself that he can do it.
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