Thursday, July 16, 2009


I think the evidence is clear: Ainsley is not a diver.

Ainsley's summer swim team at "Poo Pool" (keep reading to find out why I call our family recreation center that if you're a week or more behind) is almost over. She has done well; she has won one race at one of the weekly meets, come in 3rd in a few others, and her medley relay team in which she swims the final freestyle lap (the Michael Phelps spot, if you will) has been unstoppable. Not so much because she swims like Michael Phelps, but because the 6-year-old girl who swims the butterfly lap ahead of her is freakishly gifted in the water and bears a strong resemblance to a wind-up toy once she gets going. Ainsley could pretty much dog-paddle her lap and the team would still win comfortably because the prodigy who swims before her gives her an unbelievable lead to work with. It's thrilling. After her first race and its devastating false start, she's caught on to competitive swimming and occasionally knocks our socks off.

But diving grabbed her attention at the first meet, much to my dismay. It's not that I don't like my only baby jumping head-first into something, though that might be part of it. It's that dive practice is an hour before swim practice and calls for me to get up at an hour too close to my school-year workday wake-up time. Summer is about sleeping in.

I want my kid to be active, though, so once or twice a week we have added dive practice.

By the end of the first practice ever, she was executing a move you could reasonably call a forward dive. It wasn't pretty, but it was head-first and almost straight.

Then something happened. Fear set in in the form of a few painful belly flops. For the next bunch of practices, and at the first meet her coach had her try a dive, she did something that was half-jump, half-dive, that looked like the time my dad tossed my childhood cat into our pool to see if it could swim: arms and legs akimbo and all going into the water at the same time. (Don't think badly of my dad for that move; he had had some beers, and the cat had been walking on the edge of the pool looking like it wanted in, and was rescued immediately once it became clear that the Siamese is not a water breed.)

Frustrated and not wanting to get up at the crack of dawn in July unless I absolutely have to, I presented Ainsley with an ultimatum this week: do a real forward dive, or skip dive team until next year.

The fear won.

This morning saw only scared-cat dives, much to her coach's frustration and mine. So we have decided to try again next year.

She tells me she really wants to dive but that she gets nervous. She can do a front somersault off the board as well as some of the older kids, but she can't bring herself to lean down into the water head first. She says she thinks she's a little afraid of heights but that she wants to try again next year.

We will see.

In two days, I have to get on an airplane. My whole life I've been afraid of this; when I was Ainsley's age there were a few weeks when my family toyed with the idea of flying to Orlando to visit Dad's brother who worked at Kennedy Space Center, and when it didn't pan out financially I was more relieved than disappointed. Ainsley is excited to get on the plane; she knows no fear when it comes to jumping on the metal bird.

Fear is interesting. I am afraid of so many things, for no real reason: Big dogs. Fire. Spiders. Flying. I find myself being overprotective of Ainsley all the time. I don't like her on roller skates in the street because I am afraid she will fall on the concrete or roll in front of a speeding car. I don't like her to play where I can't see her because I worry about the predators who I hear about on the news. I dread the day that she learns to drive, and know I will have to eventually turn over the keys but don't know how I will focus on anything in my life knowing she's out on the same roads that kill area teenagers on a regular basis. Sometimes my fear gets in the way of me living my life.

So Ainsley's fear of diving even though part of her wants to conquer it and do it are really okay with me. Who am I to criticize? I walked to the end of those same diving boards once last year, looked at the water, and turned right around and got off in front of God and everybody.

But Ainsley has something I don't have: desire to get over it. I think someday she will perform a front dive, and like it's always been with Ainsley and her fears, everything from automatically flushing toilets to water slides, once she decides that she's over it she will be over it and there will be no looking back. She doesn't want to be afraid. She wants to live her life to the fullest and fear only sets her back for a little while.

If only it were the same for me and those damn airplanes.

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