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Fire in the Belly

In the last week, I’ve gotten to learn a bit about what happens when Simon’s extreme caution comes up against something he badly wants, and I like what I’ve seen.

Simon has been a Kicker (level 3) in his swim class for two months now. He quickly mastered most of the Kicker skills with one notable exception: He is not happy kicking on front (face down) without his teacher holding on to him. He doesn’t need the help; it’s all about the security of knowing where she is in case he suddenly sinks. I get it. As a bad/unformed swimmer myself, I’ve always been thrown by the sense of disorientation that comes with not being able to tell where I am in the water. I suspect you’ve got to get pretty good before that sense kicks in. Whatever the cause, Simon has been adamant that he wants the support of Julie’s presence.

He’s been equally adamant about wanting to advance to level 4, the Streamliners, forcing a confrontation between his cautious nature and his ambition. Last week, after asking me and my mom when he could be a Streamliner and discussing confidence with Matt, he decided he was ready to try. That’s how he phrased it to his teacher, Julie, too.

“Um, Ms. Julie,” he blurted out the second his lesson began, “I have to tell you something. I decided that today I want to streamline kick on front on my own.”

Then he screwed up his nerve, flipped over on his stomach, put his hands out in front of him as though he were diving, and kicked kicked kicked for a 15 yards or so in the pool. I didn’t bother telling him I was proud of him; he was so proud of himself that he was about to split, and that seemed much more important than third-party validation. I told him I was happy and excited for him. After his lesson, Julie told me that if Simon continued to repeat all the Kicker skills on his own that he’d move up to the next level within two weeks.

As Simon is obsessed with levels and timelines (you can count them!), I passed on the news to him before yesterday’s lesson. He started out all fired up, then suffered an ill-timed set-back when he dove beneath the water for toy retrieval—his first drill of the lesson—swallowed and inhaled a bunch of water, suffered an epic coughing fit, and belched loudly enough that the lifeguard at the opposite end of the pool heard and laughed. Simon was spooked, his throat hurt, and the incident put him off trying any face-down drills. On his first attempt at streamline kick on front, he pulled up short and complained of throat pain.

Julie and I tried to buoy him and suggested a do-over, but Simon remained unconvinced:

“I think I’m done for today.”

I understood. But man, I did not want him to have a full week to stew on the incident and blow it all out of proportion. I also had a sneaking suspicion I could get him back on that saddle by appealing to his ambition.

“That’s fine, Simon,” I said as soothingly as I could. “I understand that you got pool water down your wind pipe and that didn’t feel good. We can wait another week. It’s totally up to you, but I do want you to know that this is the only skill left before you become a streamliner. If you can streamline kick on front on your own right now, you’ll graduate from the Kickers today.”

I barely had the words out of my mouth before the sad eyes became determined, the slumped posture straightened, and his skinny little arms shot up into the air and assumed the streamline position. Five minutes later, Julie handed him the final Kicker skills sticker, a graduation ribbon, and the white Streamliner’s swim cap he’ll need next week.

The lesson here, for all of us I think, that while Simon remains cautious and needs to be given time and space to come to new things on his own, there comes a time when he can be encouraged to push past his timidity by appealing to his ever growing sense of ambition and determination. Best of all, this motivation comes from within; yesterday wasn’t about what I wanted or what Julie wanted for Simon, it was about what he wanted for himself.


2 Responses to “Fire in the Belly”

  1. Amanda says:

    Way to go Simon! And good move Mom to get him to try again before he had time to stew about it.

  2. blg says:

    I think the other ingredient in the mix is a mom who is aware, observant, patient and loving.

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