When Your Child Says Enough

“I think I’m going to get a mullet,” said the 11-year-old at breakfast this morning. I groaned. “You know, it’s my hair and I get to cut it how I want,” he replied. “I know” was all I could sigh.

“It’s my body, and I just don’t like swimming,” he had said last month for probably the thousandth time. I’ve heard these words countless times over the past couple of months, mostly when reminding him that it was time to get ready for swim practice. But finally, I was ready to “listen” to them.

The fact that he was “good” at swimming. The fact that he was a winner at the swim meets and qualified for elite meets. The fact that he had a natural breaststroke. The fact that he always emerged from the high school doors at the end of swim practice laughing and joking with teammates. The fact that he could pop out of bed at 6:00 am on a Saturday morning. The fact that I was allowing him to only do two or three of the five days of practice per week. The fact that I myself had invested a lot of time in learning about the sport, money in fees and equipment, and relationship building energy.

The facts do not matter when there is no passion.

And passion can not be determined by the parent. Passion can not be forced by a coach. Passion can not be mandated. Passion cannot be required. Passion comes from within.

I packed up the little racing swimsuits. I folded the swim towels. I put away the googles and tucked in the team swim cap. I snapped the plastic bin shut and shelved it in the garage.

And then I grieved.

I miss the joy of cheering on his strokes. I miss the friends who would save me a seat in the hard hard high school bleachers far above the pool. I especially miss the schedule of the swim practices because I took that time for my exercise, walking laps around the high school parking lots. I miss the words, “This is Little Guy – he’s a competitive swimmer.”  I miss the excitement. I miss the familiarity. I miss the patterning of our weeks. I miss the people.

That grief is my emotion as a parent. That is me tucking away my hopes and expectations and joy.  My disappointment in “but, he could become….” Putting away my plan for him. Sorting through and wrestling with my own feelings. Letting go.

But The Little Guy? His heart soared. His burden was lifted. The burden of endless practices. The burden of cold water and early mornings. The burden of arguing with Mom. The burden of not wanting to disappoint a parent. The burden of doing something that did not bring him joy. The burden that he carried for as long as he could.

Oh yes, we’re doing rec basketball right now and there’s endless talk of how he’s going to tear up the field when he starts football next summer. He’s sure the NBA will be calling him. He knows no tackle will catch him. He’s going to soar no matter what he does.

And yes, I am going to be right there beside him, cheering and yelling (too much) and getting teary-eyed, and praying for no injuries, and slogging to and from practices, and washing sweaty uniforms, and sitting on hard, hard bleachers, and patching skid-burns, and managing the complicated puzzle of practices and game schedules, and walking alongside him as he figures out his next move and most importantly, being his number 1 fan.

For now, it won’t be in the water and the muggy, humid pool-side stands. But no matter what stage he chooses to compete on, I will be there. That’s what parents do.