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So asked Julie, Simon’s much loved swim teacher. She was laughing because my cautious, tentative child had just dived into the pool (from the pool deck, not a board) three times on his own. And done the butterfly stroke’s dolphin kick on his own. And asked what else he could try on his own.

It’s a brave new world in the pool. Ever since Kicker graduation day, Simon has been eager to try new things and is willing to try most of them solo. He’s certainly more confident and comfortable in the water. It’s all owing to some combination of having a great teacher, a critical mass of time spent in the pool, a lust for stickers, and the aspirational qualities of watching the two girls who swim after him zoom up and down the pool.

This child bears very little resemblance to the one I took to swim classes in August through December. So when Julie jokingly asked the question, I just laughed and said “I don’t know, but he can stick around as long as he likes!”

This past weekend, things got even weirder, and that got me to thinking even more. First, our friend Barry (Caroline’s dad) perked up when Matt mentioned that Simon was learning a little PickleBall and had a basic forehand and backstroke. Barry is a fabulous tennis player: He was once nationally ranked, and he kept talking about what a huge advantage being a leftie is in tennis and how it’s great that Simon likes it* and has a swing. Then he made suggestions about what we should and should not do to develop natural talent at this age. I think he might have even offered to give Simon some lessons. Or asked to.

Then Sunday we had an extra swim lesson to make up for the fact that pool renovations will cancel this week’s regular Wednesday class. Simon dove in, did an actual two-arm backstroke, and completed his first somersault in the water. He also picked up his final three Streamliner skills stickers, meaning he learned the 15 essential Level 4 skills in four lessons. Julie says she wants to fine tune his skills for 2-3 weeks, and then she’s going to move him up again, at which point he’ll develop the basics of all four strokes and learn how to do starts.

While Simon dolphin kicked in the pool, a young man approached me on the pool deck.

“Can I talk to you about swim team?” he asked. “I’ve been watching your son, and he’s the exact kind of kid we want—a natural that listens and takes instruction incredibly well. He’s six right?”

“Huh?” came my bewildered response. “He just was five in the fall, and he’s not a natural at all. He was a floater for three months!”

“Five! Even better. And he might not have been a natural in the beginning, but he is now. I can tell.”

At this point in time, Julie piped up from the pool.

“Oh yeah. Ever since he got over being scared, he’s been a total natural. John (another instructor) and I both told Matt he should come watch Simon. We knew once he saw Simon he’d really want him for swim team.”

Was my son just recruited for something? I think he was. I also think he’s been called a natural at a variety of sports at this point, starting with baseball when the Whitworth’s neighbor watched Simon hit balls in the front yard and was eager to transfer that flexible wrist and “natural swing” to the golf course and continuing through a variety of sports since then.

Whose child is this? Not mine, for sure. There’s a reason I’m a distance runner; I can’t do anything else! Matt was once an OK racket-ball player and ran cross country briefly as a kid, but his athletic prowess is likewise extremely limited. Neither of us is the sporty type or played anything for more than a single, experimental season. In fact, when I was pregnant we would lie in bed and hypothesize about the kind of kid we’d be lost with.

“What if,” I’d speculate, “we have a kid who’s really dumb but totally into sports?”

And then we’d laugh and laugh and laugh, because how on earth could the two of us produce such a kid? We couldn’t. Surely not.

Thankfully, Simon is pretty smart. Shockingly, he also might be kind of sporty. He’s never going to have the ferocity and total lack of fear or sensitivity to pain that makes my nephew Ben a fabulous hockey player or sabre fencer.  But you don’t have to have a warrior mentality to excel at all sports, and I’m beginning to wonder if Simon might not have some natural ability after all.

Barry cautioned us about getting too excited and cited the coach’s kid effect. That’s when a kid starts early, gets good instruction and is assumed to be a phenom before he or she is old enough to demonstrate the kind of ability that sets elite athletes apart. It was hard to know how to respond to this. In our family, “elite” is used to qualify nouns like “test scores”, not “athlete”. I’m not expecting Simon to relive my past athletic glory. Instead, I’m kind of shocked he’s any good at anything!

Which is doing my kid a potential disservice. I assume it’s great that I’m not expecting or coercing Simon into following in my athletic footsteps. But mightn’t it be nice if I didn’t assume he’d be hopeless at everything? I feel totally at sea: relieved I won’t be the red-faced parent screaming at refs and yelling at my kid during soccer games, but clueless as how to recognize or develop natural talent. Unless or until Simon loses all interest and/or bombs out at a long string of sports, I think I’d better stay friendly with Barry. I’m loaded with questions, he seems to be loaded with answers.

Still, the question remains: Whose child is this?”

*Boy does he ever like it. He’s been playing in Jim and Evie’s unheated garage. He needs a coat, hat, and mittens to stay warm enough, but isn’t dissuaded by the conditions. It reminds us very much of when he’d insist on hitting balls in the back-yard for an hour or so while Matt wilted in hundred-degree heat this past summer.

2 Responses to ““Whose Child Is This?””

  1. Amanda says:

    If it makes you feel better, my friend Suzanne and her husband Bruce are flummoxed by their 14 year old son’s popularity and music ability. As Suzanne said, “We are geeks. We were not the popular kids. Jordan is like an alien!” But they are all doing fine.

  2. blg says:

    Read this and I am *so* laughing:
    “In fact, when I was pregnant we would lie in bed and hypothesize about the kind of kid we’d be lost with.

    “’What if,’ I’d speculate, ‘we have a kid who’s really dumb but totally into sports?’”

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