"He has courage. He is trying really hard. I want to keep him!"
These were the words out of my oldest son's swim instructor, James, as we paced together along the side of a full-length swimming lane at the Wakefield High School pool in Arlington during Ike's first lesson of the season. Twenty seconds earlier, I had approached James with an apology, stating that my wife must have signed Ike up for the wrong level. I had spent thirty or so minutes in the stands watching as bigger and more mature kids (we're talking 7 or 8 instead of 6) took orders immediately from the instructor and swam through the pool like a family of dolphins. Ike seemingly understood the instructions, but his body just wasn't coordinating completely and consistently. It was taking him about 3 to 4 times as long to complete an exercise.
"You want to keep him?" I asked, bewildered.
"Yea. Well.. not permanently," James said with a chuckle. "But I want him in my class. He wants to learn. I need someone like him in this class. His body will catch up with enough time."
I was stunned, and... so, so... proud! I actually teared up as I kept walking alongside the pool watching Ike swim four consecutive backstrokes then hang on the lane rope to rest up for his next three or four strokes. He had a huge grin on his face, even as he heavily respirated from the challenge of getting through a full, Olympic lap. I wanted to hug James, maybe even plunge into the pool with him, but thought that may be a tad awkward, only knowing him for less than a minute. And really, James didn't think it to be a big deal. He just liked the effort, especially with the other kids literally swimming laps around my little man. Yet, his first three, short sentences were so disarming.
As I worked through the elation of hearing praise for my kid's effort in the pool, I started to feel a little embarrassed about how I approached the instructor. I was so worried that he was an annoyance or a strain on the class that I didn't even think to look closely at what Ike was doing. Almost everything in that first lesson was new to him. Nobody had ever really shown him how to do a breaststroke or backstroke, yet there he was, pulling them off the best he could by himself in the pool. He would get a prompt from James and off he'd go. Slowly, yes, but he was still getting through the same amount of water as everyone else in the class. He was being challenged and he wasn't afraid!
It was true that Ike was signed up in a level or two above where he was 'supposed' to go, based on his last lesson. When he was done with class that night, he still had a huge grin. He loved the class. He said he was tired, but happy. I continued to do mental cartwheels as we walked home through the night in our neighborhood.
Thank you, James, for showing me how strong my son really is and for recognizing the value of potential showcased in effort and courage. I'll never forget the feeling of pride and the lesson I learned as a parent. I can't wait for next week's class!