Wil stood at the edge of the pond with his bare toes dug in the sand. He squinted under the hot sun out to his cousin, Jackson, and Jackson’s friend, Zach, playing on the raft tethered to the pond’s center. Wil took a few tentative steps to the water’s edge. The water lapped the sand from his feet. I knew that was as far as he would go. It isn’t the water Wil is scared of. It’s the unevenness of the surface below him.
Wil will swim for hours in a pool. He’s learned in swim lessons to kick his feet and turn his arms, though he is not able to float on his own. He prefers jumping, splashing and playing in the shallower areas of the pool. The surface is flat, the water is clear and waist-high.
I knew he wanted more than anything to be swimming in the middle of the pond with Jackson and Zach. He simply didn’t have the confidence to do so.
About a year ago, Wil was at my parent’s house. They live on a lake and as this was an impromptu visit so we didn’t have Wil’s swim suit with us. My mom had one of the twin’s bikinis and thought, what the heck, he wants to swim and he won’t care. She gave Wil the bikini bottoms and he excitedly put them on. He said they were “magic” and that he would “swim like my sisters.” He ran out the door to the lake in his magic swim suit. As soon as he reached the lake’s edge, he stopped and looked down. The magic had disappeared. He turned around and jumped in the kiddie pool my parents keep for him in the backyard.
This summer Matt has taken Wil and the twins out to Wampler’s Lake. The water is very shallow in the beach area and Matt has encouraged Wil to walk in. To say it’s taken strong encouragement is a gross understatement. Matt finally managed to get Wil out where the twins were playing and the water was about waist-high. The twins wanted Matt to throw them so he picked up Elizabeth and threw her, then Katherine. They came back again and again. (Now that the twins are approaching 100lbs, he can’t toss them as far as he used to, but they still love the game). Wil wanted to be part of the fun but was very tentative. Matt picked up Wil and gently tossed him. He came up from under water with a look of shock, then smiled and asked for more.
At the pond’s edge, I walked up to Wil and asked if he wanted his life jacket. He quickly said yes. As soon as I snapped the jacket in place Wil started to make his way to the raft. My heart lifted a thousand times as I watched him take step after step to the raft without once looking back. A year of maturity and time with Matt and the twins at Wampler’s Lake gave Wil this confidence. Previously, even with the security of his life jacket, Wil would have quickly returned to shore having felt the slightest shift of elevation under his feet.
The water was no higher than waist-high when Wil reached the raft. He jumped up and managed to propel half of his body onto the raft. He kicked and pulled with his knees and hands until he was able to pull his entire body up on the raft. Jackson and Zach encouraged him until he was sitting right next to them. Wil crossed his legs and sat tall. By the look on his face you would have thought he was king of the world. And in that moment he was.
Wil floated on the raft with Jackson and Zach. Wil jumped off the raft with Jackson and Zach. He did all of the things that Jackson and Zach did. He was not as fast as they were, and did not climb back on the raft as swiftly and easily as they did, but they gave him a hand when he needed it. He was one of the boys.
As Wil grew more comfortable, he hopped off the raft and swam by himself to a small square foam raft. He turned his arms and kicked his legs to make his way. He has never done this on his own without persuasive coaxing from a family member. Matt and I both watched in awe. When Wil reached the foam raft he again propelled half of his body on, lifted one knee and kicked mightily with the other leg until momentum inched him fully onto the raft. He sat tall for a minute, then sprawled on his stomach, arms and legs outstretched, and energetically splashed the water with this hands.
The twins soon jumped into the pond and the 5 kids played together for hours. When it was finally time to go home, Wil was the last one to come out. He would have stayed longer but I sent the twins back in to coax him out.
Wil wants so much to do what other kids his age do. I want that so much for him, too. He watches his friends, his sisters and their friends. He sees what they can do and wants to join in. The reality is, he does not have their physical strength or cognitive quickness. But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for him. What Wil accomplished at the pond and what I have seen him accomplish in the past, I know there is always a place for him. Sometimes that place comes naturally and other times it needs to be created.
When it comes to space making, as Wil’s family, we can toss him in the lake right next to his sisters to foster confidence in him. But, when it comes down to it, it’s up to Wil. Wil is the king of his own world. There is no magic swim suit. Wil must decide for himself if he wants to stand at the edge of the pond or jump right in. He alone knows when it’s time to do that. And I’ll always be there beside him with a life jacket at the ready.