The backstory: For all of my life, when I would announce that I couldn't do something, my father would respond, "can't never does." For years, I found this Dad-ism tiresome and annoying. But grudgingly, I came to understand that it was also true. As a parent, I have repeated the "can't never does" lesson to my son. JT knows the phrase well.
At the community pool to which we belong, there is a slide. It's no water park, but it's a pretty impressive looking slide, and JT has been fascinated with it since we joined the pool. The catch is that potential-sliders must demonstrate swimming competence. If you want to slide, you must be able to swim the length of the pool. You must swim on your belly, demonstrate some command of a stroke, and you may not touch the bottom of the pool as you swim those 50 yards.
It's a high standard and JT has never met it. In fact, in previous summers he's never even tried. Though he's had plenty of lessons, swimming never came very easy to him. His skills have steadily improved but he's not always been confident about what he can accomplish.
Last summer, when his California cousins visited, we took them to our pool and they passed the swim test in seconds. JT was impressed, but he still wouldn't try the test himself. I let it be, hoping that he would grow more confident.
Yesterday afternoon, we went to the pool with his buddy B. JT and B have been friends for years; earlier that day they had completed their two-week swimming lesson class.
In the afternoon, they announced that they were going to practice and see if they could pass the test. And then they set out to swim the length of the pool, cheering one another on. B's mom and I watched and speculated about this process. JT doesn't much care to take risks and his fear of failure is sometimes greater than his willingness to take a chance. I know exactly how this feels so though I wanted to provide him encouragement, I also wanted him to own his potential success.
Within the hour, JT decided that he could pass the test. He sat on his towel, nervously resting and plotting his next move. Then he hopped up, found an off-duty lifeguard and asked her to supervise him as he swam the length of the pool. He jumped in the pool and started swimming. I watched with my heart in my throat, thrilled that he was willing to try, willing him to keep on swimming, and crossing my fingers that he would succeed.
With a new confidence in his step, he took his pool card to the front desk, got it stamped for slide privileges and then had a fingernail painted so that the lifeguard at the top of the slide would know he was good-to-go.
And then he enjoyed his new privilege.
At the end of the day, as I tucked him into bed, we admired that painted fingernail one more time. I told him how proud of him I was. I said I was pleased that he had passed the test and that I was incredibly proud that he had been willing to take the risk; that he bravely handled the whole process like a pro. He smiled and said, "The whole time I was swimming that lap, I kept thinking about how great it would feel when I succeeded. Can't never does I thought.....but this time.....can did it, Mama."