Like many parents on the Island, I’ve spent countless hours sitting at the little plastic tables along the wall of the Bainbridge Island Aquatics Center watching my kid splash through swim classes. In truth, I don’t always watch my daughter; I also chat with other parents, read, work, or just people watch. (It’s especially fun to project into the future what the smallest bathing-suit-clad children will look like as adults.) But yesterday I was on full alert and teary when my 5 year old took her first jump off the diving board into the deep end of the pool. For months now she has progressed through the Kinder swim levels, and twice before she has not jumped, once out of fear and last time because just as she was getting up to the diving board the pool was evacuated because someone threw up in it.
This time around, things looked iffy, and I smiled expectantly, heart on my tongue, watery eyes beaming her courage, bracing myself to accept whatever she decided to do. When her turn came around, she climbed the ladder and began the 15-foot-long walk forward, slowing as she reached the part extending over open water and inch-worming her way to the end. And there she stood looking cold and small, feet stone-heavy and stuck in place, deaf to her instructor’s encouragements from the water below. An excruciating full minute passed, then two, until she edged halfway back down the diving board, letting the last kid behind her move past her, walking confidently to the end and leaping off without hesitation. Class was ending for the day, and in her final moment my daughter walked slowly back down to the end, paused briefly, and without further ado jumped in butt first, taking her place among the initiates.
It was a happy moment of triumph, but part of me knew I was crazy to think so. What was wrong with those kids who leaped into 25-foot water without a moment’s thought? And why would I want my daughter to jump, and in jumping move that much farther away from me? I was happy for her for taking the risk, but I was just as happy that she had considered it carefully beforehand. She had been smart and brave, albeit motivated also by peer pressure. And so it is that as much as I want my five year old to continue to be who she is now—the fiercely loving, honest, curious, world-wondering, uncensored self she is—I know she won’t and can’t stay that way. She has to move along her path, growing into the selves that await her. And for me that means continually loosening the grasp, letting go gradually as she requires. It means countless more bittersweet conversations, like the one afterward at the pool when she told me she loved jumping and couldn’t wait to do it again.
Bainbridge Island Aquatics Center photo by Julie Hall.