My granddaughter Taylor asked me to tell her a story about her Daddy when he was a little boy. We were eating dinner at a local restaurant, right after the Boys & Girls Club Swimming Championships, in which Taylor and her brother Andrew had participated and kicked fin! The restaurant was fun, busy kind-of noisy and we were there with my daughter-in-law’s parents, too… so I told Taylor that I would send her a story in a blog post.
Tay… here’s the story, and the story is about swimming!
Your Daddy was the cutest little guy. He had blond hair and big blue eyes and skinny little legs. He loved to shoot baskets with his Daddy, your Grandpa, in our driveway. Grandpa used to pick your Daddy up and lift him to the basket and pretend that he scored the points. Daddy loved that. Daddy also loved his Big Wheel… a low-to-the-ground tricycle that went pretty fast if you pedaled fast enough. Daddy used to love to pedal super-fast and then screech to a halt and spin that Big Wheel completely around. Grandpa and I used to park 2 cars right across the end of our driveway so Daddy didn’t pedal right out to the street! Actually, we lived in Rumford back then, right around the corner from where you live now! (Uncle Adam was only 2 years old when we moved from Providence to Rumford, so he didn’t pedal all that fast… and Auntie Audrey and Auntie Janie weren’t even born yet!) Daddy also loved First Beach in Newport because the tides created the greatest little rivers, inlet sorts of things, and Daddy would wade in that water and jump in and hop around. And Daddy also loved to float and kick around in Nana-Rita’s swimming pool with his little blow-up water-wings…
And this leads me to the swimming story.
Grandpa and I wanted Daddy to know how to swim so we would feel safe when he was near water. And we both knew how much fun it is to feel confident near water, too. When Daddy was almost 6 years old, we enrolled him in swimming lessons at the Barrington YMCA. It was the very beginning of October when Daddy had his first lesson. I remember this very well because it was almost my birthday and we were going apple picking afterward. (I remember little details like this one for some reason… just like I remember everything about you!) Daddy was frightened to take lessons and we had to tell him that everything would be all right… just listen to the swimming instructor. We talked to him all the way to the Y, but he was getting more and more frightened as we went along. When we got there, Grandpa went to the boys’ locker room with Daddy to change him into his little bathing suit. He looked so tiny. Then we walked him onto the pool deck to meet the instructor. Daddy began to cry and Grandpa knelt down next to him and said, “Keith, we want you to stay here in the lesson. If you want, you can sit at the edge of the pool, but you have to stay here with the teacher and the other kids.” Grandpa then talked to the instructor, who said that she would let Daddy sit on the side of the pool if he didn’t want to go into the water.
Daddy cried some more. My heart was breaking and Grandpa’s heart was breaking, but Grandpa and I left the pool area with Adam and we walked outside. It was a very warm October day… but we couldn’t enjoy the blue sky and beautiful scents. All we could think about was Daddy. We knew the Barrington YMCA had a big window on the back side of the pool… so we walked around to the back and peeked inside that big window. The window was steamy and foggy and wet, but we rubbed a tiny little area and peeked inside. There was your Daddy… sitting on the edge of that great big pool, a red and white striped swimming bubble buckled around his waist. His skinny little legs were crossed under him and he was slumped over, and we knew he was crying. I burst into tears and wanted to rescue him. But Grandpa, who is a very, very smart man, knew that Daddy would never feel confident and independent if we took him out of that lesson.
It was the longest half hour of my life.
Parents were allowed to watch the last 5 minutes of each lesson, so that’s what we did. Grandpa, Adam and I tip-toed onto the pool deck and watched. Now what you’re probably thinking is… “And by then Daddy was playing in the pool with the other kids, a huge smile spread across his face…” No. Daddy was still sitting at the pool’s edge with that little swimming bubble buckled around his waist. He never went into the pool that day…
The next week was even harder for Daddy. By then, he knew that he didn’t want to learn to swim… but Grandpa told him the same thing about sitting at the edge of the pool until he wanted to join the class. Daddy did the same thing as the week before. But by the third week, Daddy had decided that the water looked more fun than sitting at the edge of the pool, and that’s when he learned that swimming is FUN. Before long, Daddy didn’t need that swimming bubble anymore… and he progressed to the next level. And the next. And the next, all the way up to the highest level of Y Progressive Swimming.
As you know, your Daddy turned into a heart-throb of a lifeguard as a teenager. He watched your Auntie Audrey and Auntie Janie turn into champion swimmers in that same Barrington YMCA swimming pool. And two years ago, your Daddy finished a Half IronMan, in which he swam 1.2 ocean miles before cycling 56 and then running 13.1…
And now he watches, with your Mommy, with the greatest love and pride as you and your brother and your cousin Maddie have turned into champion swimmers!
I guess if I could turn back time, I would know that those tears your Daddy shed on that first day of swimming lessons must have been magical tears, crystal ball kind of tears that would tell a lifetime of stories to his own children some day. (And I guess that Grandpa knew this all along!)
I hope you like this little story about your Daddy and how he had so much strength and determination, even at 6 years old, with his skinny little legs in that great big pool. And now those grown-up legs are taking Daddy to run the Boston Marathon for Boston Children’s Hospital… with the same strength and determination as that little boy who didn’t want to sit on the edge of the pool, who didn’t want to sit on the edge of LIFE, but participate to the fullest!
Taylor… Grandpa and I love your Daddy for the little boy he was and for the man he has become, and I have lots more stories to tell you about your Daddy when he was little! I love you forever! Grandma