Sunday, June 29, 2008

duct tape on my mouth

At one of Pook's first swimming lessons, when he was three, coach Patrick remarked, laughing, "We've got a sinker here!" Pook naturally swims about eight inches under water. His normal movement in the water, say from jumping off the diving board and getting to a ladder, is underwater with hands at his sides, doing a dolphin kick, feet together. In the past few years he has learned how to float and swim freestyle fine. Last year's coach, Jay, noticed his swim and decided to teach him the butterfly stroke. This is usually very hard and taught later, after back stroke and breast stroke, but Pook seemed ready for it, and did well learning it.

When he began anticipating his first swim meet, he told me he wanted to win a first place ribbon. Part of me wanted to tame the enthusiasm to a realistic level, but then I realized he just needed a niche. Since very few kids his age would know the butterfly stroke, the swim team coach helped him polish it up one evening and thought he was good enough to compete with it. His niche.

There were kids, ages 5-18, from five pools around Atlanta at the swim meet. The other teams were much larger than ours, so there were probably 120-150 kids there, plus all the parents and siblings in attendance.

The young girls started with ages 6 and under swimming 25m freestyle. Then boys, then ages 8 and under, girls, then boys. Pook seemed prepared and did a great job with his first race. Everyone earns a ribbon if they get to the end, so he collected his ribbon with pride and went off to play with his buddies. All ages did freestyle, then backstroke, then breast stroke. He opted out of those and since he doesn't really know them well, that was fine. I spoke to him (about 2 hours later!) and reminded him that his coaches and I wanted him to swim butterfly.


Surprised, I tried to find out why. He gave vague answers about being dry, about not knowing how and being tired. I could tell there was more to the story, but he didn't want to talk about it. I stopped discussing it with him and sent him to stay by the coaches and do what they asked. I figured they'd peer pressure him into it. He returned to me a bit later and said he would swim the butterfly under one condition: We couldn't cheer for him.

I'm a cheerer. I whoop and holler for the kid who is still swimming when the other competitors are getting out of the water. (I'm always for the underdog.) I try to cheer for any kid I know, hoping to excite them and encourage them. Pook is not a whoop-and-holler-for-me-kid.

He once had an opportunity to touch a static ball (Van DeGraff generator). Bug had walked into the room, had his baby fine hair stand on end, and was eager to have a turn, but was too young. Pook was persuaded to get in line. The girl in front of him was African American and had tight little braids all over her head. No static effect there. Pook went next. He needed a haircut anyway, and has very thick hair. He looked like a dandelion. Everyone applauded and laughed. Bug was jealous. Pook took weeks to recover from the trauma.

I should learn from events like this. I've never really liked being the center of attention myself. Once, on my birthday, Sister M.D. told the waitress at Farrell's that it was her birthday, let them sing and play their loud band for her, then passed the ice cream to me and ordered her own. And yet I often find myself remembering this too late. I could have realized that Pook would have disliked all the people watching him swim. Disliked the noise and hubbub. Disliked having me shout his name, identifying him. But I didn't think about it.

He swam the butterfly, and then voluntarily participated in a 4x25 freestyle relay. I stood where he could see me at the finish, but kept my mouth sealed tightly closed. When he climbed out, I gave him a towel, a hug and a "I'm proud of you" whisper. Might have been one of the hardest things I've done.

CD and I began discussing it later. Is he participating because he wants to or because he thinks we want it and he just wants to please us? He isn't a particularly athletic kid. We've agreed, however, that becoming familiar with various popular sports is important for boys and even more important for boys in The South. He tried soccer and learned how it works and now plays on the playground at school, but not on a team. He tried basketball and had a personality conflict with the coach and hasn't wanted to play since. But he knows how. He played t-ball two seasons and baseball one. He enjoys it. If he gets to a point where he can no longer compete, maybe he'd want to manage. Maybe he'll want to focus on something entirely different. He loves the chess club. I think he likes the swim team - at least the practices.

I am happy to let him focus on his own talents and interests. I do want him to know some of the choices he may not recognize. He's now protesting that he's scheduled for an art camp later in the summer. In February he agreed that it would be fun, so too late there. I think he'll like it, but he won't know anyone there and I know that's hard for him.

I hope I'm not pushing him into something I want him to like. Having not participated in any sport or team myself, I'm on shaky ground here. In hindsight, I wish I'd been pushed into some activities. My mom let me choose, and at that age I'm not sure I was capable of making great choices for myself. Had I been pushed into trying some sports would I be glad I learned them or would I have dreaded the competition and attention? Not sure.

1 comment:

  1. I'm such a big advocate of swim team. It is the best combination of individual and team sports. My number one kid is a complete non-athlete. He's tried it all and just doesn't like it (kind of like Mom). But summer after summer he returns to swim team. He doesn't do "A" meets but nearly every "B" meet he improves his personal best. My not-so-graceful but very energetic number 2 made All Stars in backstroke last year (but opted to go to the beach with her best friend instead). She loves swim! My athletic number 3 says she hates swimming but is definitely holding her own this year. They all love the social events, and I love that my whole family is on one team.