Monday, September 19, 2005


Swimming lessons

It's 9:55 am on a Sunday, and Tristan and I are standing on the wet tile deck of the local public pool. Excited children in bathing suits hop from foot to foot beside tired-looking parents in sweats and jeans. More than one parent looks like they wish Tim Hortons had a cantina window at the community centre.

I am probably more nervous than Tristan. It's our first day of swimming lessons, the first time I will hand him over to an instructor and walk away. I have friends who have not made this transition gracefully, whose children have melted down in a panic over being left poolside with a stranger, whose children refused to so much as get into the water, let alone blow bubbles and float and kick with abandon.

Tristan is actually holding on to my leg, something I don't remember him ever doing before. He is not overly shy, but the energy level in the large, noisy room is in the red zone and a little overwhelming even to me.

It's 10:05 and we are still standing on the pool deck. I begin to suspect we have been overlooked in the chaos of day one. I find someone who looks like they might be in charge (and also looks to be about thirteen years old, but he's the most responsible-looking person within reach) and he consults a clipboard and informs us Tristan is supposed to be in the water already. He gestures into the pool toward a large fellow talking animatedly to two preschoolers who cling to the side of the pool and regard him with cautious eyes.

I walk Tristan over to the edge of the pool and make introductions. I reach for Tristan, to help him get into the water, and instead he drops to his bum on the edge of the pool and in one fluid bounce is in the water, assuming the same position as his preschool classmates.

"Okay, Tristan, see you later. I'll be right over there, okay - see, over there, in those chairs..." I call reassuringly (to whom?), but he is already focused on The Teacher with rapt attention.

I walk away beaming as another mother and son approach with considerably more trepidation. At first, the little guy absolutely refuses to get in the water, but by the end of the lesson, the teacher has coaxed him to sit on the side and dangle his feet while his mother hovers anxiously. Several times, the little guy makes a break for the change rooms and is brought crying back to the pool's edge. Catty though it may be, I'm always glad when it isn't me for a change.

I sit alertly in the blue molded plastic chairs on the deck, surprised at the number of parents reading the paper, chatting, staring off into space and otherwise not focusing their entire life force on the preschoolers in the pool. Granted, there are lessons of all levels going on today, and I'm sure by the time he's ready to test for his red cross lifesaver's certificate I'll be a little bit more relaxed, but today I am tensely coiled, waiting to jump into the pool to rescue my baby should the need arise, or at least to intervene should my son's nascent stubborn streak appear.

I look on with mildly surprised pride as Tristan floats, kicks and blows bubbles compliantly. I beam when I see the teacher mouth the words "Great job!" and high-five my grinning son after a particularly successful float. I am amazed that he patiently waits his turn clinging to the side of the pool as the teacher works with the other kids, and am simply astonished that in an entire 30 minute lesson he never tries to escape, never resists instruction, never shows any inclination to disruption or dissention. This is my strong-willed and single-minded Tristan?

At the end of the lesson, he flings his soaking self into my outstretched arms. "You did GREAT!" I enthuse, and he nods with self-conscious pride. His compliance with authority gets rubbed away with the chorinated water I towel out of his hair, and by the time he is dry his my-way-or-the-highway attitude has reasserted itself.

But we've taken our first step down the long road of learning, and of letting go. I see countless hours of sitting in uncomfortable molded plastic chairs in my future, watching swimming lessons or Christmas pagents or hockey games. I feel at this moment the blissful intersection of the years of waiting and hoping to be a parent, the long dark hours of mothering a newborn and the untold wonders ahead of us.

Who would have guessed it? My boy is growing up.