We went to the pool for a couple of hours on Saturday. It was only our second outing of the season, and it had to be brief. We had limited time before we had to run home for the ‘Oh my god what did I get myself into French party‘.
Brooke was a superstar. She got right into the water and did her patented upright doggy paddle like nobody’s business. With just a minimum of anxious hooting, she stayed relatively calm as she made her way from the stairs to where I stood with outstretched arms about five feet away. She struggled to keep her ears above the water, making for a laborious and awkward stroke, but she did it. With each breath she let out a short stecatto burst of sound – MAH. With each inch closer and each MAH I’d say, ‘I’m right here, babe. You’re doing it. Slow. Calm. Nice and calm. You’re doing great.’ Over and over again, she swam to me.
I moved farther and farther away from the steps. She took breaks and protested the distance, but she made her way to me time after time. Each time she got to me she exclaimed, ‘Mama! you SAVED me,’ as I spun her around in celebration. She was having a ball.
She looked over at the diving board.
Last summer, Brooke decided she wanted to jump off the diving board like her big sister. Like all the kids, she had to pass a deep water test before she was allowed to use the board. She did. She was slow, but she filled the requirements and the lifeguard let her though. For the last few weeks of the season, Brooke was swimming proficiently and jumping off the board like a pro.
On our maiden voyage to the pool last weekend, she tried the same swim test that she had passed last year. She couldn’t do it. About a quarter of the way through she looked utterly terrified and began to sink. I jumped in and grabbed her. ‘Mama you saved me’ lost its usual air of hyperbole.
‘I would jump off the diving board,’ she said again on Saturday. After so much success it seemed like a great time to try it again.
Katie encouraged her. Without any prompting, she jumped in and swam down to the ropes that mark the half-way point so that Brooke could swim to her. I dove in next, as I had promised, to swim alongside her.
‘Mah Mah Mah Mah’, she hooted as she made her way toward the ropes. This was not the little girl who swam like a fish last summer. Couldn’t be. ‘No no no no!’ she began to shout as she started to lose steam. I swam just ahead of her, not three feet away. ‘C’mon baby, you can do it. Let’s get to Katie.’
‘Mah Mah Mah Mah.’ She sputtered, gasping for air. I put out a hand and she clawed her way up my arm. She held on for dear life. I figured we were done and I got ready to jump out of the pool just as Katie yelled from the ropes, ‘C’mon Brooke. I know you can do it!’
Without a word, she pulled away from me and headed toward her sister.
sputter spit cough
gasp pull spit
‘DOOOOOOOOO IT !!!!‘
She looked like the little engine that could.
My heart soared. She cranked her arms for all she could and made it to within a foot of the rope. She floundered again and Katie pulled her the rest of the way.
We were only half-way home.
I swam back a couple of feet to get in front of her again and reached out my arms. ‘C’mon, Little Lulu. We have to swim back. Nice and calm and slow. You got this.’
‘I got this,’ she said as she let go of the rope. She made it about two feet. She panicked and reached out for me. She had nothing left. I held her close and told her she was fine. I told her how proud I was of her. I told her we’d try again next time.
We grabbed the wall right under the lifeguard’s chair. ‘Sorry, kiddo,’ she said. ‘You’ve got to be able to swim the whole distance without holding on.’
Katie looked as though she were going to burst into tears. “Mama,” she said, ‘I’m just so sorry for her. She tried so hard.’
Brooke climbed out of the pool and headed for the diving board. ‘I would go off the diving board now. I did the swim test. It’s all done.’
She had no idea.
I tried to explain. I told her we’d try again next time. I told her again how proud I was that she had done her best. As I spoke, she began to understand what had happened. Or at least that she couldn’t yet dive off the board. She cried out sharply. Just once. Then she walked away.
I asked if she wanted to splash around a bit, but she was spent. She passed the rest of the time at the pool sprawled out on the warm concrete deck. ‘I would get warm,’ she said over and over. She was, quite simply, done. People stepped over and around her. I tried everything I could to engage her again. It wasn’t going to happen. Rather than convince her to move, I chose to stand guard and make sure no one tripped over her.
I treated the girls to popsicles and we headed to the car. Brooke licked hers with her eyes closed the entire ride home. She never opened them. Shutting out the overload, closing out the world that wasn’t working the way she wanted it to.
If you’ll excuse me, I think I might give it a try.