My little guy had his first swimming lesson in the big pool this afternoon. Until now, he’s been in the kiddie pool, in swimming groups named after water animals. He hated Starfish, goofed around in Duck and really mastered Salamander. I knew things may change a little when I registered him for the official-sounding Swim Kids One. He turned five this week so it seemed fitting that things might get slightly more serious.
He wore his red Lightening McQueen bathing suit, little knees knocking together and tiny goosebumps marching down his arms as we walked to the pool deck and scanned the list for his name. A chipper teen named Alix was the teacher. Two shivering, bouncing five-year-old boys were already there, water up to their necks. My brave guy jumped in and radiated that unleashed, uninhibited joy that only children in the water have.
I sat on the wooden bench and watched. Within moments, he was gliding away from the wall, fully submerged for a few metres until his blonde head popped up, revealing a sputtering, mile-wide grin. I got a little sentimental and felt maybe a fraction of what I’ll feel when he heads off to school in the fall: so delighted that he is independent and confident but a tiny bit sad that I’m not needed quite so much.
I looked away for a few minutes and enjoyed a moment of not being responsible. When I looked up his blissful smile was gone and his lower lip was out in a full-on quiver, his blue eyes fighting tears. The teacher mouthed to me, “He’s got a stomach ache” as my boy reached out his arms, wanting me to wrap him up in his brand-new shark towel and hug away the pain. We walked together to the family change room. He sat on my knee and I rocked him as I had rocked him for hours and hours in the years before, the water soaking through the towel and staining my jeans. We sat for ten minutes like that, he and I.
I’ve never raised a five-year-old before. I’ve taught many of them, but having my own is a different experience all together. It’s like a tug-of-war, a constant pushing away and pulling back. Mommy, I need you. Mommy, I don’t.
This must be the beginning of the letting go. Some days I’m desperate to let go a little. The endless “Mommy, mommy!” The steady rivalry with his tiny sister. Other days, days like today, I savour those long, soaking-wet hugs in the change room.