Standing on the Sidelines (#384)

For all that Charlie is a superior swimmer—-as Jim noted after being in the ocean with him on Saturday, Charlie is nonchalant when a wave picks him up and his feet are far from the sand, and automatically starts swimming—Charlie is equally happy splashing and jumping around in the shallow end of the pool. He often closes his eyes, puts his head a bit back, and splats water with alternating arms, or simply curls up on the stairs and sits.
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He was doing that this afternoon, and glancing over his shoulder with his big brown eyes at me occasionally. I was standing on the side of the pool and calling out “You’re splashing! Yeah, it’s good we went swimming today. [We had not gone yesterday, though Charlie wore his swimsuit from 4am on.] You’re all wet!” Charlie held the stair rail and ducked his shoulders under the water.

For me to be standing on the side of the pool rather than in the pool a few inches from Charlie speaks reams to me about how he has grown and learned. It was only two years ago that I (and I’m nearer to 40 than 30) learned how to swim, as a result of having to chase Charlie around swimming pools to:

  • keep him from bumping into people swimming laps
  • keep him away from rowdy pre-adolescents
  • keep him from going under the lane markers (in the indoor pool)
  • keep him from going under the lane marker for the diving area
  • drag him out when the lifeguards whistled that it was Adult Swim
  • drag him out when he was clinging to the metal gutter of the pool and knocking his forehead on it

I have mastered a pseudo head-above-the-water breaststroke and can keep up with Charlie (in the pool, not in the ocean—that’s Jim’s job). (My parents, having endured years of “I won’t! I’m scared! Not the deep end!” from me about the pool, have been duly shocked to see me doing laps with Charlie.)

And so, for the past three years since Charlie could swim an elaborate doggie-paddle round the pool, I have been jumping in the pool after him. But, in this summer of 2006, I have been standing on the sidelines, cheering, watching, counting my change for the inevitable trip to the snack bar. I don’t think I’ll ever be the mom in the chair reading a magazine or chatting away the lazy summer days: Charlie is a good swimmer, but he must be watched.

But it is something to know that I do not have to shadow Charlie in the pool like the proverbial hawk. It makes me think, perhaps there will be a day when Charlie can cross the street by himself—take a bus by himself—live by…….himself, “independently“????!!!!!?…..not ready to go there tonight.

So back to today and me standing on the sidelines as Charlie, after he had jumped off the diving board and showed off his strokes in the deep end, was glad to fool around beside a host of kids in the shallow end. And then I realized that another mother was shooting some Concerned Glances at Charlie, and at me, and back to Charlie. Something like frowns.

When she wavered close to the pool’s edge, I bent down.

“He’s autistic,” I said, quietly.

“Oh, I thought he was crying,” said the other mother, her relief evident.

“He’s a really good swimmer,” I said.

Now that I think about it, maybe that was all I really needed to say.

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