Feel like you’re drowning? Just keep going.
This afternoon, while Rory napped and Noah played with Legos, I wrote about Noah’s first swim meet on Saturday.
Thank God Rory woke up and prevented me from posting it.
The gist of the post was that Noah, like me, gets stressed out by the unfamiliar, and would rather quit something that’s hard than feel uncomfortable trying. And that in signing up for swim team, and actually going to the practices, he was bucking that. How at his meet on Saturday he swam the length of the pool by himself for the first time ever.
How he stopped about three-quarters of the way down the lane, frantically treaded water and yelled “I can’t do this!” But then how he righted himself and finished anyway.
He was the only boy left in the pool. Everyone there was cheering him on, encouraging him to just make it to the wall.
The centerpiece of the story was how, after clawing his way out of the pool like a man fallen overboard from a capsized ship, Noah declared, “My breath was getting hard, but then I saw I was almost done, so I decided I had to just keep going!”
Of course, I was terribly proud of all of this. Sure, he was the last one in the pool for both the boys under-6 freestyle (more accurately, the doggy paddle) and the backstroke (upside-down doggy paddle) events. But he finished. Even though it was hard. And the point of my story was that if Noah takes nothing away from this experience but “just keep going,” it would make all the evening practices and early-morning Saturday meets and musty towels and wet bathing suits and missing goggle searches worth it.
Then we went to practice today. And Noah quit. He quit hard, and repeatedly and loudly. I was in the shallow end chatting with the other moms of small kids and attempting to catch Rory as he leapt like a drunken cliff-jumper into the pool, when Noah swam out of his practice lane toward me.
He was sobbing. He was yelling. He was pounding his fists into the water.
“I can’t do it!!! It’s too hard!!!”
They were learning breaststroke. He didn’t understand what he was supposed to do with his legs.
I said something – all the parenting things, really, too many, I’m sure – about how no one is good the first time, and it will get easier with time, and he can’t just quit, because he’s part of a team, and how he just needs to try one more lap. He yowled some more and swam away from me. I pulled him back by the arm and told him that if he wanted to quit for the day, he had to go tell his coaches. He finally did.
They said something that got him back in the pool for another lap.
“I don’t know what to do with this kid,” I told my friend in the shallow end.
“It’s so hard,” she said. “You handled it as well as any of us would have.”
I saw Noah coming down the lane with his coach, twisting and complaining and fighting as his coach tried to help him learn another new kick. He finished the length of the pool, but then splashed over to me.
“I can’t keep my legs together! It’s too hard!!!” he yelled, collapsing into more crying and general hysteria.
“Alright, Noah, you need to calm down. Out of the pool.”
I pulled a slippery, protesting Rory from the water and dragged him and Noah to a chair. Two moms I knew from the neighborhood sat in the shade at the table watching their kids practice. I tried to keep my voice down.
“You need to sit here until you can calm down. If you calm down, you can go back to practice. If you don’t, we will leave.”
There was more, of course. Whining and arguing and crying and attempts to bolt from the chair. I threatened five times that we would leave if he anythinged “one more time.” Finally he calmed down – not all the way, not as much as I said he had to or we would go home – but enough to go back to practice. I put Rory on a towel on the cement and changed him into dry clothes, and then sat him at the umbrella-covered table with a snack of graham crackers and blueberries.
I was sweating. Flustered. I looked at the women across the table who had politely ignored the entire scene.
“I’m totally open to advice on this one,” I said to them.
“Oh, you’re fine,” one said. “We’ve all been there. You just had to do it in public.”
“Anything we can do to help?” asked the other one.
“Do either of you have booze?” I asked. They laughed. I’m pretty sure they would have given it to me if they did.
They were great, understanding. But I was exhausted. Frustrated. Embarrassed. Defeated. Like I have no freaking idea what I am doing.
Like I want to quit.
I was so glad that I hadn’t posted the thing I wrote about Noah learning to “just keep going.” Because while that really happened, saying that lesson had been “learned” would be tantamount to standing on an aircraft carrier in a flight suit in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner. Anyone who had witnessed the scene at the pool would have seen me as a fraud.
Just when you think you have something figured out, no. Just when you think it’s about to get easier, it’s a whole other type of hard.
But at least I’m not alone. Tonight, all I can do is delete that rose-tinted post I wrote earlier and thank God for all the women who help me get through the hard, murky, real days of parenting. The women who say I’m doing fine even if they’re just being nice. The women who keep an eye on Rory when Noah requires my full attention. The women who offer to drive Noah to the next practice if it would make it easier for me.
I’m thankful for the women, today and every day, who cheer me on when I’m frantically treading water, tilting my chin up and gulping for air, yelling “I can’t do this!” The women who stand at the edge of the pool yelling back to me, “Yes you can! Just keep going!”