50 metres of fear
The school swimming carnival. Urgh. I remember, with revulsion, 13 years of the head aching noise, and pressure to stand up on the blocks and fail in front of everyone. Sportsperson of the year, I was not.
However, our Mr 8 is a sportsperson. He can't get enough soccer, he excels at tennis, basketball, anything he puts his perfect hand-eye coordination to. My husband and I always marvel at this miracle, being as we can't throw a ball between us.
But swimming...well, we found out last year that this was not something that came naturally to our little man. Because at his first ever school swimming carnival, he - in his words - "drowned". Jumped off the blocks, plopped 2 metres down to the bottom of the pool, and, well, stayed there.
I'd just left - after he assured me he would not be racing, which I would confidently have put money on at the time. I didn't, however, factor in that he would get carried along with his friends in the hype of all going in the pool together.
My first surprise came immediately after this event: "I need to learn how to swim mum," he stated, got straight in the pool at swimming lessons and powered on to learn all the strokes perfectly, within 6 months. There's my little sportsman now!
Fast forward and we find ourselves in the utterly merciless carnival chaos again.
This time however, we were prepared. We'd practised in a deep pool, jumped off the scary blocks, and worked some nice lengthy swims into his repertoire.
So, we were ready.
Except that we weren't.
You can't train to get rid of fear.
And it hit us both when we got there.
We sat quietly. He stayed with me, over in the corner, when normally he would be off mucking around with his friends. We took it all in, and I tried gently to nudge him, but definitely not make him.
He did a couple of novelty things.
Silently he took himself off to test drive the slow lane - as if telling me he was going in that pool would make it too real to him.
All in his own time, I realised.
He was so nervous, that he didn't eat.
Then he stood up and said, "I'm going in the 50 metres breaststroke."
Instead, "ok, good boy" came out of my mouth.
I must admit, I cowered around. I asked the marshals to look out for him, and they put him in the side lane.
He sat there waiting for his race to be called, still, quiet, contemplating; his beautiful brown eyes looking down the barrel of that lane reaching forever out in front of him.
His friends, also waiting for the race, were completely pumped, shouting, bouncing around, enjoying it. This time though, I don't think it was about doing something with them, or even the pressure to perform well in front of them. The look on his little face was that he needed to do this for himself.
And all of a sudden, he was back there again, jumping into that abyss.
He swam. His normally beautiful, long, gliding breast stroke, was jerking about on the top of the water, like he'd forgotten the basics - I panicked that he was panicking.
I could see the point where his asthma kicked in, and he started looking around him for somewhere to stop and breathe.
"Keep going, you're doing so well!" My goodness if I could have thrown him a rope and dragged him back to me I would have.
He touched the wall, heaving chest, completely out of breath, confused about what to do next - because he'd never made it to the end before in a race... Ha! HE'D MADE IT!!!
It wasn't til later that night when I'd tucked everyone down into their beds, that I sat down and had a little tear (ok, a flood) of pride in him. What an achievement. I wish I had been that brave at school swimming carnivals.
Now, if I hear myself saying, "I can't", I will always think of this little boy, sitting at the beginning of his 50 metres of fear, how he harnessed his mind, flexed his bravery, and said, "I can".