Papa Sez by Todd Hunter-Gilbert Issue #9
Papa Sez
by Todd Hunter-Gilbert

Push Me, Pull You - September 2004

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"Remember, you're unique.  Just like everybody else."  I don't remember where I first heard that or who said it, but I remember thinking it was funny.

Denise and I were split on the issue of uniqueness.  While pregnant, she longed desperately for an "average" child.  While I wished for one, well, above average.  Denise and I certainly both fit that vague description and I didn't see how we could possibly get anything else.

My reasons were not well defined--the best I could articulate was a desire for someone like me.  But in retrospect, my reasons went all the way back to my childhood.  Up through third grade all was pretty normal. I lived on a block with a lot of kids, most of whom were in my classes. We played outside from the end of school until dinner and then maybe again until bedtime.  The only thing a little off was that I was bored stiff in school.\

Then I switched to a private school and, simultaneously, skipped fourth grade. We wouldn't know it for several years, but this was a mistake.  Suddenly I was an average of 18 months behind my classmates (I was a June baby and so already one of the youngest in my classes before the jump).  I was going to be a late bloomer and the MD we didn't yet know I had was about to manifest.  Throw the difference in emotional development on top of all that and I was a fish very far out of his water.  I wanted nothing more than to fit in with my classmates, but the more I tried, the more I failed.  And I was not accustomed to failure.

I saw uniqueness, therefore, as a very bad thing, and did my best to blend at every opportunity.  Yet still I want Quinn to be above average--more in the sense of having the skills to be successful at anything he tries rather than being weird to the point of having difficulty socially.  And that appears to be the sort of kid we got.

Quinn is in preschool, and because he joined late he got put in the class 1 year ahead of him.  But it wasn't our choice or goal and next year he'll be in the appropriate class.  And while I hear lots of school-related stories from D, I'm so seldom there I couldn't reliably offer my perspective on it.  But he has thrived in the older group, should we think about advancing him somewhere along the line?

Well, I hit that spot in my narrative and got stuck.  I realized I had lots of thought process leading up to a decision, but no actual decision to make.  Writer's block, of a sort.  And there goes Shake's July deadline flying by.  Allow me to mildly alter theme at this point to get beyond the block.

Then one day D tells me that she'd signed Q up for swimming lessons and I was to take him.  Every evening for 2 weeks.  I look up the swim lessons web site so I know what to expect.  They've got 7 waves of lessons from beginners up to swim team.  That'll keep him busy.

Each weekend before the lessons begin I take Q swimming at the local pool--a large outdoor affair with a deep end featuring two diving boards.  Q is fascinated by the diving board and wants to be allowed to go on it.  At a friend's birthday party (at a house with a backyard pool) he'd jumped from the diving board while wearing his floatation vest.  No vest allowed at this pool.  And kids aren't cleared for the deep end until wave 4 of lessons.

I show up at the first lesson curious how quickly Q can get to wave 4.They begin sorting the kids into groups and the first group is...three to five year olds, and they're being taken to the kiddie pool. There's a level below wave 1! I sense a little blonde revolt about to happen.  Another parent is lurking near the kiddie pool with anxious looks matching the ones that I can feel on my own face. We compare notes on our kids then double-team the manager.

Both kids are moved up to wave 1 pretty quickly.  Suddenly I feel like one of _those_ parents.  I anxiously watch his progress to ensure I haven't just pushed him in over his head, as it were.

Wave 1 requires kids to hold their breath under water, look around under water and report back what they see, jump in from the edge, and similar tasks.  Quinn does this stuff in his sleep, no worries.  But I keep watching.

At one point, the kids line up to jump in from the edge.  Quinn is cold and I'm watching him shiver.  The other kids dutifully jump into the teacher's waiting arms.  The teacher catches them, lets their heads just go under water, and shuffles them to the stair area.  Quinn is last, and comes up with a look I recognize--indignity.

See, in our weekend swimming Quinn would spend up to an hour practicing jumping in, sinking down to the bottom when he can, then flailing his way back to the surface.  He'd proved very good at it and utterly fearless. But his teacher didn't know that, and was insisting on catching the kids. Should I say something?  Did I already interfere enough?  What is enough?

I decide to let it sit for a day and see what happens.  So it was with much interest that I watched the kids line up for the next round of jumping in.  He's nearer the front this time, waits his turn.  When Ryan, the teacher, calls his name, Q hunches down and launches himself into a perfect cannonball.  Arms tucked.  Straight at Ryan's head.  Ryan jumps out of the way and Quinn lands as he wished--uncaught.  Triumph.

Be well.

Is there a moral here?  I'm not sure.  I suppose kids will push themselves as hard as they care to.  As parents, we just need to make sure they're in a place where they are free to do it.

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