The coach chose him to swim an I.M., or Individual Medley, which is a 100-meter race where the swimmer does one lap of each stroke: butterfly, backstroke, breasttroke, and freestyle. A race that intimidates him and makes him doubt.
My third born, a boy, who has reached thirteen years in the blink of an eye, who gracefully straddles the beam of adolescence, who still says “Yes Mam” and hugs me everyday, who just started gelling his hair and caring about muscles, stood on the blocks. There were anxious fidgets, exaggerated exhales, and popping of knuckles. And the swimmers seemed nervous, too.
The starter’s whistle released him and he sprung off the blocks; an adrenaline-fueled, man-boy flying through the air. We cheered his every breath and flexed with every stroke. At the turns, he snuck peeks at his competition, and kicked hard. When the race ended, we knew his time had improved, and we high-fived to celebrate our parenting.
And though others touched the wall before him, he proudly hoisted his dripping body onto the deck and stood puffed out and tall. We noticed him searching the crowd, so we held our hands up in the air to get his attention. We craned our necks to catch his eye. We called his name.
And he walked straight over…
… to his friends.
I stood there with empty arms for a moment of melancholy, but then remembered.
Adolescence sneaks up on you and tags you for a game of hide and seek. On some days, boyhood rules, but on others, manhood begins redecorating the nursery inside my son’s mind and heart. And I forget the chaos within. My son is trying to abide in two very different kingdoms, both of which are vying for his loyalty, and eventually he must choose.
And that night, while manhood was intoxicated by chlorine and success, childhood was nowhere to be seen.
As a young man on the pool deck, the approval of his parents wouldn’t satisfy. So he chose elsewhere.
But, I watch him and don’t panic. This is the way it’s supposed to be.
He must eventually become dissatisfied with his parents so that he can eventually find satisfaction in his God alone.
And in the meantime, he must swim his own race. With us on the sidelines, watching, cheering, and praying, but not in his water.
I think about the lessons he must learn, the struggles he must overcome, and the pain he can’t avoid.
It’s the race we all swim, to some extent, but this must be his. He’s been chosen to swim his own medley of strokes. And I’ve been chosen to step aside. Not completely. Not sadly. Not silently. But to make room in the waters for God to usher in manhood.
Eventually, he’ll learn that his friends don’t have what he needs. Then, he might try his work, or even his church, or something else that the world has to offer.
And that’s when he’ll reach the wall. The wall that we all hit when we’re exhausted from all of our strokes. The strokes that keep us confined between ropes and racing back and forth, going nowhere fast.
And when he stops, he’ll look for the Voice. He’ll see a God who has been pursuing him up and down the lane ropes, calling his name. And he’ll see a God that has so much more to offer than parents or friends. He’ll see a Redeemer who brings victory and rest; not by craning his neck, but in the bowing of it. He’ll see a Savior who’s arms aren’t raised to get his attention, but are stretched open and nailed to a cross, demonstrating a perfect love.
And, there on the pool deck, with my son on the other side, I think about all of these things. And I pray:
Lord, prepare me for whatever strokes my son does. Help me let go of what I think his race should look like. I trust that you are leading him along the way and teaching him to hear your voice above all the noise. Help him to reach the wall sooner than later, to learn quickly that You alone are the source of all he needs. Give me the grace and wisdom to get out of the center of his life and out of the way of your work. Protect him and give him desires that will keep him from harm. And bring him into manhood with a passion for you alone. Amen
I look up to see him coming toward me, searching the rows of parents in camp chairs, so I raise my hand and call his name. He sees us, nods, and bounds forward saying, “Mom, I lost my goggles, but then I found them. And can I have some money for a candy bar?”
And I breathe a happy sigh that my child has reappeared, for the time being, and I hand over a dollar with the usual speech, “Now, that’s it. You can get a candy bar, but don’t ask for anything else from the concessions. We have fruit and granola bars in the cooler. Got it?”
He takes the money and gives me a “Thanks”, a hug, and a “Yes Mam”.
My husband and I exchange a happy look and another high-five, grateful that our children’s individual medleys don’t start with a bang. Glad to have some time to ease into our new roles and for more opportunities to prepare them, and us, for the swimming of their own races.
Glad to have another night of candy bars and hugs.