Chronicles of a swimming gala

“Our lives are not measured by our accomplishments. They are measured by the little steps and decisions we make every day.”  Anonymous


Today finds a little boy at his very first swimming gala. His mother wishes that they could side step this one.  For she knows that they are embarking on the rollercoaster ride of some of life’s tougher lessons.  Lessons she wishes she could spare her son for just a little while longer as it leaves a tiny heart like his and a mother heart like hers in a million knots.  At almost seven years old, it’s incredibly hard to grasp that winning in life is not about coming first.  But, he is a go getter.  He wants to participate.  These are qualities in their son that she and her husband have to honour.  So off to the gala they go, pioneers in unchartered seas.

The little boy is not affectionately called “Ever-ready” at school sports for nothing. He doesn’t miss a beat as he lines up for the first heat.  Pool noodle-stroke of all things.  His mother tries to give a bit of advice, but he wouldn’t have it.  “Mom! Leave me alone! I want to swim now.”  With no formal training under his loose swimming trunk-elastic, she knows that the 25 metres to the other side are going to be tough.  He jumps in and off he goes, blue cap bobbling in and out of the water.  Second place!  What a reward for immense bravery!  The day has barely begun and the swimming pool is his latest oyster.  Next up is the final of the pool noodle-item.

Unravelling commences as he mistakes his fourth place for a third. Then, confusion sets in.  With chest broad and eyes on shiny things, he takes his position next to the three boys who await their medals and their moment of glory on the podium.  His mother has to take him by the arm and lead him away.  “But Mom, I came second just now!  I must get a medal!”  She tries to explain the whole heats and finals scenario as they take a seat.  His green eyes are as wild as the most foreign place.   Hearts often break in silence.  Silence settles in his little body next to her.

The uplifting talk begins. Clichés abound.  “My boy, remember, winning isn’t everything.  The most important thing is life is to get up and show up, to jump in the water and to try.  To take on new things is the only way you will learn what you love and want to do in life.  You gave your very best in the pool and that is all I care about.” But she knows that no amount of wonderful words will mend his broken heart just then.  She can only sit next to him and ride out this frightening bend that the rollercoaster brought along.  They sit and look around them at the children celebrating their successes as well as the ones crying with disillusionment.  A woman comes over to tell the story of her son who hid between chairs on his way to the pool, hoping she wouldn’t find him.  It’s a jungle out there.

The next item is announced. The mother asks him if he wants to participate.  With a brave heart and renewed hopes of round shiny things, he jumps in the pool.  He kicks his bravery smack bang into no man’s land and finishes the race in a solid last place.  He gets out and breaks down.  “Why is the other ones winning and I am not?  I want a medal!”  It also doesn’t help that a friend slaps him on the back and asks him why he kicked so slowly.  Boys will be boys.

The uplifting talk continues. “My son, remember, up until now, you’ve only swam for fun.  And that is how it should be.  You are still so young.  Don’t be so hard on yourself, remember, you are good at so many other things.  Maybe this is not your thing.  Maybe swimming is some of your other friends’ thing and we should celebrate with them.  God gave us all different talents.”  Angrily, he says, “No!  I want to go for swimming lessons.  I want to win everything!”  He looks at the water.  “I’m not going to swim again.  The water is too cold.”

She looks at him and silently prays that a lonesome seed will fall in place somewhere in between all the confusing emotions. “That’s okay, you don’t have to swim again.  But we came on a mission today to participate in a swimming gala.  And that is what we are going to do still.”  She looks at the many parents leaving with their crying children.

A little while later, the next item is announced. The mother asks him if he wants to participate.  “Will I win a medal this time?”  He is weighing his options.  “If you come first, second or third, you will get a medal,” she answers.  He turns down the invitation, maybe realizing his limitations for the day.  He spots one of his friends on his way into the swimming pool and rounds up a few others.  “Hey guys, let’s go cheer for Lukas!”  They stand next to the pool and cheer him on.

When all is said and done, it is announced that all the participants who didn’t win a medal must come to collect their own. They are honoured for their participation today.  The little boy smiles from ear to ear, bright shiny thing around his neck and all.  His mother says that he must stand on the podium on top of the number ‘1’ so she can take a photo, for he is indeed her very own number one.  “No Mom!  Remember, I came second?”  He proudly stands on top of the number ‘2’.  Fair is fair.  ‘You deserve a medal just for being you,’ she thinks.  ‘And me, well, I deserve quite a few medals.’

Photos are taken of smiling and hugging friends. Toothless mouths and crooked front teeth rule them all.  For a moment, all disappointment is forgotten.  They share in each other’s joy.  The little boy even negotiates a medal exchange with his friend who won two silver medals.  “Come on, then you will have two different ones,” he tells him.  In the end, he has his silver medal and everyone is happy.

Today finds a little boy at his very first swimming gala. His mother wishes that they could side step this one.  She wishes that he can stay on top of the world a little longer, invincible and unbreakable.  But in the end, she is thankful for today.  Most of all, she is thankful that she can be there with him as he experiences these things.  She is thankful that they can take what is good from the day and move on to the next unchartered sea.  If she and her husband can teach their son but that, they have come a long way.

And that is all she needs to know now.


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