Swimming Lessons

August 3, 2006 at 10:28 am (Uncategorized)

Yesterday I took Andrew to the pool.  At first he was hesitant about getting in the water; he hung around the steps, confining himself to a knee-high depth.  But after he watched the other kids swimming and splashing, shrieking and throwing themselves off the diving board into the warm water, he began to venture out more.  Eventually, he grabbed onto a buoyant plastic noodle, and thrashed around with it on his belly, while I kept a supportive hand on his stomach.  “Look, Mommy, look!” he squealed with delight, “I am swimming!”  And then he wanted to jump off the diving board.

The only problem was that Andrew wasn’t even close to swimming.  If I had let go of him, he would have sunk like a stone.  But he was so proud and so thrilled with himself that, of course, I praised him and fussed over him for being such a monumentally excellent swimmer.   I am sure that the confidence he felt in himself, along with the pure joy of experiencing something new, will carry him into the water next time.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he did indeed start swimming soon.  But in the meantime, I will keep a death grip on him when he’s in the water.

Andrew is only two, but already I can see that one of the greatest challenges of parenting will be letting him go.  How will I ever be able to take him seriously when I’ve cared for him at his most helpless, laughed along with his silliness, and guided him to his first bite, his first step, his first word?  Jay, who often has a gift for being more direct than I, put it more bluntly.  “After years of wiping Andrew’s butt,” he said, “how am I supposed to let him drive and date people?”  How indeed.

Lately I feel like lately I’ve been doing a fair amount of flailing about in the water myself.  As I’m sure my blog entries, with their erratic ups and downs, make clear, I struggle with finding some kind of equilibrium in the midst of chronic illness.  I am not a physically graceful person, and as I swing between acceptance and rage, sadness and happiness, I realize that psychological grace is not my strong suit either.

But there is something empowering about doing the flailing myself.  Even though there are days when I look back and see that I came pretty close to sinking in the deep-end of sarcoidosis and prednisone therapy, I, at least, feel movement and effort.  I have battles to fight, pills to take, doctors to get angry at, pounds to try and shed.

However, the people in my life who love me and worry about me don’t get to thrash around in the pool.  They can only watch me and fret.  Occasionally, they can offer me a supportive hand to keep me afloat, but, for the most part, they have to stand back and wait while I figure things out, come close to drowning, and assure them that I’m swimming the entire time, even though it’s abundantly clear that I’m not.

Yesterday, my Mom called me and was terribly worried about me.  She reads these entries about my depression, my fatigue, and my anger.  She sees me grapple with finding a balance between resting and succumbing to this illness, between taking care of myself and making others happy.  But all she can do is watch and wait for me to figure things out.  I become irritated that people are constantly concerned about me.  “Stop worrying,” I’ll say waspishly, in the same tone that Andrew now uses to tell me to leave the bathroom when he’s in it.  I force myself to exit the room, even though I know he’ll pee all over the floor and his clothes and won’t be able to pull his pants back up.   He has to figure things out.  He has to fail.

As hard as it is for my parents, it’s even tougher on Jay because he has to live with me and watch me slip up on an almost daily basis.  I know I take things out on him, and I know he has to frequently pick up the pieces after I insist on doing something stupid and later pay the price.  For instance, this past weekend, I adamantly used a weed whacker in our yard, even though Jay practically begged me to be sensible, stay inside, and let my arm heal.  Of course I made the arm worse and of course I was grumpy about having limitations.  I couldn’t lift Andrew that night, and I was morose and miserable.  Jay didn’t say, “I told you so,” although he should have.

Having a kid has taught me how impossibly hard it is to love someone with every fiber of your being.  Loving Jay has always been easy because he’s so damn nice to me.  But with Andrew, I sometimes feel like he sucks everything from me, only so he can turn around and leave.  Today it’s the bathroom I’m kicked out of, tomorrow it will be his room.  In a few years, he’ll probably be embarrassed by me when his friends come over.  I can’t imagine how awful that will feel.  But when he does go his own way, I will know that I succeeded as a mother.  In the meantime, I’ll keep taking Andrew to the pool, and I’ll keep a steady hand beneath him.  And when he swims away from me, I will whoop with joy and be terribly proud of him, even though he will be moving out of my depth and I will know it.

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