Yesterday Wally Ben broke my heart. He has no idea, and he did nothing wrong. In fact, if I hadn’t been prompted by my husband the day before, it might have been just another day at the pool. But Husband Wally had to go and encourage a new lens to see the moment, and my heart cracked to pieces.

Let me explain. We were at the pool, as we have been all of this summer. (After a rainy, rainy June and a freezing first few weeks of July, summer just started 4 weeks ago, right?) Earlier this summer (4 weeks ago), Wally5 became totally confident in his swimming. I became totally confident in his swimming. And he decided he could tackle the diving boards at the pool. He had done plenty of jumping off of my mom and dad’s diving board a week prior, so I felt good about it. Husband Wally was a little more hesitant, but as I’ve witnessed his swimming all summer, I made the call. Husband Wally stayed back in the zero depth area with Vivvi, where you have a clear view of the boards, and he watched.

At the community pool, it’s totally organized. There are three boards, and the entire deep end is closed when the boards are open. Somehow the rules are clear without explanation: you wait in line, and when the person in front of you has cleared the area, you jump. The kids create the order, and other kids follow right in line—as kids do more than we give them credit for. Wally stepped in the line for the smallest board.

Everything went exactly as we thought it would. He popped up, swam to the side, and climbed out.

“Good job!” I said.

“I want to try the high dive now!” he said.

I was feeling confident, but not that confident. The high dive is a million feet high. Okay, it’s probably 10-12 feet, but it’s higher than I would go myself. (I imagine myself climbing and shaking, death gripping the railings that are on the sides of the first half, crawling to the end to look down, turning around to shame crawl back to the ladder and falling in the process, everything that would pop out of my suit when I landed, all of the adjustments and twisting and underwater acrobatics required to become decent again after landing, missing something that had popped out, and being kicked out of the pool for indecent exposure later. Or worse, having conversations with 5-10 people after and only discovering the poppage upon arrival home, and wondering who noticed but was too embarrassed for both of us to say anything. You will not see me going off that board anytime soon. No thank you.)

I encourage Wally to try the medium-sized board first, and to “toothpick” jump to see how deep he can go. He does, and as he does I remember my mom’s pool. We were playing with diving toys in the shallow end there. I was tossing the toys in, and he was using his goggles to grab them from the four foot deep end. Only, it was totally totally hard for him. Not because he was scared to do it or lacked the skill, but because his butt is so buoyant. He was using all of his strength to swim down, but his little butt was stuck at the surface, refusing to sink. Wally’s butt is a built in safety device—God’s life preserver.

He surfaces from the medium diving board, and climbs out.

“Good job!” I say.

“I want to try the high dive now!” he says. De ja vu. But this time, I am ready.

As Wally waits in line, we look to the zero depth area to wave at Husband Wally who, at this point, is standing in the water, arms crossed, shaking his head at me. His eyes are saying, don’t let him do it. I’m returning his look with my own smiling, thumbs up nod that says, don’t worry, he’s got his butt. His confidence, and his butt.

Wally climbs, walks to the end, and without any pomp or circumstance, jumps. My heart beats just a little faster.

Wally surfaces (as I knew he would), and swims to the side to climb out.

You see, this is another “big kid” first in a line of recent firsts. First time off the high dive. First time riding a bike without training wheels. First time losing a tooth. Here we are in the middle of the summer that is going to transform him into a big kid, and here are all of the markers that are going to take him there. These big moments are sweeping him forward, and I am surprised, watching, a few seconds behind. I didn’t know we were there yet. We have baby books for all of the firsts that happen from baby to toddler. But where are the ones for all of these moments? How do we capture them, so we can hold them tight? And in just under a month, these moments will sweep him, and his confidence, and his buoyant little butt right into the elementary school that looms just a block away for kindergarten.

And here is where my heart broke. A few weeks after that first jump, our pool routine has changed. Vivvi and I swim in the shallow area while Wally Ben makes the diving board rounds. Husband Wally had taken the kids to the pool the day before, and the evening before when the kids were in bed, we had discussed it. “I was watching Wally going off the board, and it made me sad.” “What about it was sad?” I asked. “He was doing these tricks, and goofy jumps, and waving, and was just so blissfully unaware of all the kids around him,” he said. “What’s sad about that?” I asked. “It’s just so nice that he doesn’t know yet what ‘cool’ is,” Wally said.

So that day I watched him. He stood in line with his orange goggles he loves and waved to me a thousand times. If I wasn’t watching for a moment, he stood at the top and yelled, “Mom!” in his booming, incredibly volumed voice he inherited from my mother-in-law. (Don’t worry, she knows it and will not be offended.) He ran in the air like a total nerd off the medium board. He did awkward, crooked toothpick jumps from the high dive. One of the times, his leg slapped loudly on the surface and a few older boys chuckled. But he didn’t care who was watching (as long as I was), what they thought, or if it mattered. It was something so pure and innocent. It said so much about childhood, and not understanding that the world can be hard.

And it broke my heart, because I am starting to mourn its loss. Sure, we might get lucky and he might never care about what is “cool.” But I am not naive enough to believe the world won’t hurt him ever. Sometime, once school starts, this year, next year, in 10 years, he will be hurt. And I will have to watch him be wounded. Doubt will start to creep in. What matters will start to change. And I will have to watch this thing—this purity, this innocence, this totally unaware piece of him slowly get chipped away. And away with it will go his need for me to watch. His feeling that I am the most important person to impress. His desire to publicly wow me alone. His full, unencumbered focus on jumping and embracing the joy of life. This beautiful, beautiful thing that I am watching, and laughing at, and loving will fade. I do not feel ready.

He finishes his jumping and makes his way toward me.

“Good job!” I say. And I hug him. And I kiss him on his cheek. And I try to hide the tears that are filling my eyes.

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