I am a mom in training, an eager wanna-be. I’m sitting here, pool side, watching my friend’s son swim―or rather―stand on tip-toe in the shallow end making sure that his lanky four foot tall body is as much above the water as it is in. “I don’t like water in my face,” he tells me. So I watch as he makes his way from the shallow end into the three foot area, pulling his goggles on and off, smiling happily, but never actually going under water.
I’m approved to adopt. The paperwork has been filed. It’s been notarized, authenticated, and certified by the consulate. All those embossed stamps and seals make me official, but it still feels pretty surreal. I’ve been waiting for over two years. The weight of that unknown can make me question who I’ll be as a mom, if I have what everyone else seems to have.
I smile and nod with approval when Alex grabs hold of one of the floating red balls. I want him to join in. The other kids are tossing the balls into the basketball hoops that line this side of the pool. They seem older, though, third or fourth grade. Alex is tall for his age. He’s only in first. He watches them for a while but doesn’t play along. He just scoots in between them, somewhat oblivious, holding onto his catch and making sure his face stays as dry as possible.
He almost drowned once when he was a toddler. He slipped down into the blue, the pool water rushing into his ears and his lungs, his head fully submerged. It took my friend seconds to realize what had happened, and then she yanked him right out. Someone called 911. He sputtered water and then threw up, repeatedly, all the while calling out with eyes clenched tight, “MAMA! MAMA!” She wrapped him in her arms, holding him tight against her body, her heart racing. “I’m right here, baby,” she said, over and over again. “Mama’s got you.”
It took a long time for my friend to forgive herself, even though technically there was nothing to forgive. She saved her son. Accidents happen despite our best efforts to prevent them. But the image of his body disappearing under the water can still burst into her dreams, drenching her nightgown in sweat. She didn’t want her son to grow up fearing the water. Or worse, she fearing it for him. So when he got older, she started him in swimming classes at the YMCA. She took him to water park resorts over spring break. And she told him, again and again, this weekend included, that when he got scared in the shallow end, all he had to do was stand up. He was taller than the water.
Alex doesn’t much talk about his near drowning. But his absolute fear of swallowing water shoots him straight out of the pool, past the other boys, and by my side in seconds, his body shivering from fear and the cool outside air. I wrap him in his towel, rub his back as he coughs reflexively, and then ask him if he’s having fun. He turns and flashes a toothy grin. Then he wiggles out of my arms and heads right back into the pool, grabbing another ball in his arms. Progress, I think to myself. It’s all about progress.
I watch him intently as he bops up and down, cheering loudly when he finally tosses the ball through the net. But after another hour, the monolithic focus starts to wear on me and my mind wanders. I survey the other parents. The mom at the table next to mine is lost in her Kindle. The dad across from me alternates between sipping his pop, yawning, and running his hands over his balding head. One mom sits by the side of the pool, nodding as her husband tosses a Nerf ball between their sons while another dad makes his way to the snack bar.
They’re not doing anything I can’t do, it suddenly occurs to me. Perhaps we’re not all that different. Maybe they were no more knowledgeable or prepared than I will be. There are no prerequisite courses to becoming a parent, after all. No one grades you on your readiness. No one hands you a manual and says here’s how you do it. You just do it. And you learn how to rise. My eyes scan the entire pool. All those water park moms and dads have nothing on me. There is nothing that makes them more qualified for the job. Their bodies just allowed them to produce their own children. And mine does not.
“Mama,” I hear Alex call out, excitedly. My friend waves and slips into the chair next to me, thankful for the brief reprieve from single mothering. Within moments, she’s in the pool beside Alex, watching him tout his water moves. She smiles broadly and then shows him how to blow bubbles. Giggling with delight, he follows suit. I catch my friend’s eye, and we both beam with pride. Progress! We are always bigger than our fears, I remind myself. We are always more than we think we are.