My wife and daughter and I are in San Diego for the week escaping the gloomy Vancouver winter. It’s been a great relaxing time. Except for a few seconds yesterday, the stuff of every parent’s nightmares.
Andrea and Emily had gone up to the second pool area of the resort, which we hadn’t been to before yesterday, as it is a bit of a hike from our room. I was back in the room catching up on a hobby programming project. Emily loves pools — cries when she has to leave — but though she’s taken some swimming lessons, she’s still pretty hesitant to venture out without a flotation device, or spend any time under water. She’s only three, after all.
So Andrea’s sitting on the edge of the pool, and Emily is splashing around on a ledge that runs around the side. Andrea looks away for a moment, and looks back to see the top of Emily’s head, bobbing up and down under the surface. A frozen second later and Andrea has her, coughing and crying, but absolutely fine.
So far so commonplace, if absolutely terrifying. I’m still having periodic bouts of panic even at second hand.
What is extraordinary about this to me is Emily’s story. We asked her what she was thinking while she was under the water. “I didn’t know if Mommy would come and get me” — every parent’s heart skips a beat — “but I just kept bouncing.”
The shallow end of the pool nearest our room is just shallow enough for Emily to stand on her tiptoes and keep her chin out of the water. When she first went in, earlier in the week, she was terrified of the water on her face and clung to me, but she’s a hardy soul, and within an afternoon she was splashing happily around — mostly with the aid a pool noodle in her beloved purple.
I’ve been introducing her to some swimming and floating techniques, but she’s sometimes three going on thirteen, and far too cool to listen to Dad’s dull lectures on hydrodynamics. So she figured out how to keep her face mostly above water in that shallow end. By bouncing. Just keep pushing off the bottom.
I have always been filled with pride and wonder at Emily’s burgeoning intelligence, self-possession and strength of character, but what overwhelms me with such fierce joy and awe right now I can hardly stand it, is that when my little girl went in over her head, she didn’t panic, she didn’t flail, she didn’t gasp and choke.
She bounced. She just kept pushing off the bottom, face towards daylight.
There have been a lot of times in my life I’ve felt like water was closing over my head, and most of those times I’ve flailed about to no good purpose. I don’t really think of myself any more as someone with much of a purpose or strength or a lot of fight in me. When waves start to crash over my head — and there have been a few doozies lately — I just kind of curl up and hope I can ride them out. I feel prematurely jaded and cynical most of the time, privately scornful of any kind of optimism.
Is it possible that I could learn a thing or two from my small wonderful daughter? That curling up and riding out the waves has worked to drift to the surface until now, but maybe there could be more? I don’t know if I’m capable of learning, or re-learning, a new approach, and I’m most definitely not worthy of my small teacher.
But, you know, it could be something to strive for. When a wave knocks you down, or when you slip and fall, kick those legs straight down and push off. You never know. Your face just might break the surface. There just might be someone beside you to hold you up.
Whatever happens, just keep bouncing.