Growing Up

I thought she was going to drown.

That may be a slight over exaggeration, but, to me, it’s true.  This poor little girl bobbed up and down for breath in the fake blue rippling water around her. She gasped like every ounce of oxygen was as precious as her American Girl Doll collection sitting proudly on her shelf.  

I saved her. Well, I rested my hand on her stomach.

Meet Harper: the most difficult swim member of the Mean Green Swim Team. From day one she was marked as a “trouble child.” She refused to swim and nobody really knew why. The Junior Staff members-the members of coaching staff in that awkward middle stage we like to call the teenage years-gladly accepted that Harper enjoyed sitting on land doing nothing. It's “no problem” to watch Harper and we’re all “happy to do it.” Us Junior Staff members are your typical lazy teens standing around the pool monotonously “yaying” the kids as they complete their laps.

We never have to tackle the serious stuff, that’s saved for the adults. So one of our obligations was to try to get Harper to swim, which meant sit there with Harper and report back to our bosses that “we tried our best.”  

Harper typically played with grass and talked about how she liked rainbow sprinkles on her ice cream. Her incessant chatter was infamous. She managed to find out more about your life before the kids even finished their first lap of freestyle. Luckily, today was my day for a personal inquiry from a five year old. I was excited to chitchat for as long as she pleased while I soaked in the sun with ease. When I approached her, something was off. She hugged her knees and stared at the fake blue water rebounding off the tiles.

“Harper? You okay?” I said, my questions laced with concern. Her body shook softly like a puppy in the rain.

“No.” She kept staring. “I’ve never been in the water.”

“Never?” She nodded.

How can she be a member of the swim team without the swimming part? I thought to myself as I sat down next to her. I rested my hand on her back and her fear was tangible with every scared shiver down her spine. I wanted to wrap her up in my arms like a warm blanket. I yearned to tell her it was all going to be okay and she would never have to get in the water and she would be safe with me. But instead,

“Then let’s get in the water today.”

“No!” She screamed and wailed and whined and moaned and any other and every other word to describe a temper tantrum. Most Junior Staff members at this time are required to go get a real Staff member.

I didn’t. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to sit in the sun and soak it all in. I wanted Harper to swim. So I waited and she eventually stopped crying. She told me about her fear of the pool. I walked over to it and she hid behind me in fear. I consoled her and said we should test it out. She grabbed onto my hand and clutched it, as she dipped her toe in. Then she put a finger in.

Then, without telling her, I jumped in. She screamed, “Allison, get out!”

“No! You’re going to jump into my arms, okay Harper?”

She stared at me treading water, shut her eyes really tightly, and jumped. I caught her. She then started some weird spastic motion I guess I should call swimming.

I thought she was going to drown. So I treaded water a little bit faster, and put a hand underneath her stomach, holding her afloat, and cheering her on.