One year ago today, L. swam by himself at the pool for the very first time. He was almost seven and had been holding back for over three years—afraid, but also ashamed of his own fear. The water always tormented him, as did the kids—unintentionally—as they danced and played in the deep end, striking out across clear water, or diving below to retrieve coins and sharks and plastic torpedoes. But last year, on June 4, L. swam. As I watched from the pool's edge, it was unmistakably clear to everyone that his feet had indeed left the bottom of the pool. I looked and saw two slender ankles kick out against the water—briefly—but kick out they did, all the same, in one long and messy stroke.
"Mama, I swam!" he shouted, his gap-toothed grin shining from below his blue goggles, water streaming off his back. "I swam!"
On the walk home from the pool, he asked what day it was."It’s the 4th of June," we told him."The 4th of June!" he exclaimed. "We need to mark this down as the day I learned to swim!"
I did mark it down, and in my mind I made another mark. June 4, one year ago, was also the day we learned—definitively—about L.'s diagnosis. Later that afternoon, heading to the pool, we felt both weighed down and strangely relieved by what we had found out. There's no way to really explain this odd combination of feelings, except that when you've spent a couple of years watching your own child flounder and self-destruct over and over again, lashing out because there is so much he doesn't understand about his world, and so much you don't, either, it is a relief of sorts to find out the reasons why. Now we had a name for what was going on—we could draw up a battle plan, form strategies, DO something.
Last year, walking to the pool that day, I remember feeling weighed down by uncertainty and worry. I remember processing everything else around me rather numbly, the way you do when you're attempting to absorb a piece of jarring news. All I could think about was how we wanted the very best for our son, as all parents do—not the very best in terms of material success, good jobs, or even many friends (although those things are helpful, of course). We had simpler but also more complicated hopes. We wanted his days to be better—we wanted him to have more happy moments than painfully anxious ones. Life is a scary business already for everyone, but we wanted him to at least be armed with the resources necessary to embrace it all head-on.We were in a different place one year ago today. A shadowy, uncertain, and confusing place. It was a place that seemed endless, like the wooded path we take to walk to our pool, and we couldn't see the drop away into the light, the way out.
Yesterday at the pool, I watched my now almost eight-year-old son jump from the side of the pool over and over again. He made a friend yesterday—an eight-year-old girl almost two heads taller than he is. I sat on the edge of the pool with T. and threw a nickel to them, over and over again, and watched them dive together. One year ago, L.'s swimming was tentative still, and he clung to the edge most days, afraid to strike out on his own. But yesterday he was in his element at the pool, shining with a confidence we rarely see, and comfortable and happy playing with a friend.
Looking back on this past year, we all have to say that it was one of the best years L. has had in awhile. After his last day of school on Friday, I took the kids to Starbucks for a celebratory cold drink. L., who had been too engrossed in a Really Good Stuff catalog he'd pilfered out of a recycling bin at school to think much about farewells and summer, looked up from his Izze lemonade and said he was sad that second grade was over.
"I really liked second grade," he told me. "It was a good year for me."
It really was.
There will be many more bumps along the way, I know. Life will never be as easy for L. as it is for most kids and even grown-ups. It will be difficult, just as it is for all of us, but in different, more challenging ways. But we've seen the possibilities; we've realized that we can all push through the woods; and even if we never quite come out the other side of all of this, we'll be close enough.