A few weeks ago, my ten-year-old daughter competed in the 2021 Short Course State Swim Championships in Baton Rouge. My daughter is not a natural-born swimmer. She does not have the traditional “swimmer’s body” or the genes of a family of swimmers. I love the water, and I love swimming for exercise and fun. But the only reason I know the mechanics of a Butterfly is because she taught me. But the swim life is now so ingrained in our family, that our recent kitten adoption included swim-themed names.
Four years ago my daughter (then only six) was crippled with such severe anxiety that the thought of entering a room alone brought her into severe attacks of anxiety. I’ve detailed it here, here and here. Until this past summer, she was in therapy. But even through the difficulties of a year in the pandemic, my daughter has figured out how to thrive.
Three years ago, we transitioned her from gymnastics to swim. I’ve talked about the benefits of SLST here (disclosure: this was a sponsored post that I requested). She found her second family in that swimming pool, and this weekend I watched as they lifted her up. You see, she’s not the fastest swimmer. She had a near-zero chance, statistically, of placing in any of the races. And we knew that before we got there. So we set a goal: improve her times and support her team. And she did both. But her team also cheered for her. Her coaches inspired her and pushed her. They spoke to her exactly the same way they spoke to the swimmers who finished first, second, and third.
But this isn’t about me bragging about my kid, or gushing over her swim team, or how competing in a sport gives children confidence and skills that go far beyond the swimming pool or the baseball field. Well, maybe it’s about that third part a little.
This is about the moment my daughter ordered a pulled-pork taco.
It was Saturday afternoon. I was volunteering inside the pool area, and she was with her team. I’d given her cash, in case she got hungry, but some part of me did not expect her to use it. The taco stand was just outside the entrance. Still within view, still safe, but for a young girl with a lot of fears it was far. Until this weekend, she was predominantly terrified to leave my side. But when my shift ended, and I went to find her, she wore the hugest grin.
“Momma, I had the most amazing pulled pork taco.”
Sounds like nothing. Unless you are the parent of an anxious child. Then… you know.
The next day, she ran off with her teammate to line up for an event. It was the first time I didn’t have to walk her to the queue. She sat with her friends, while I chatted with other parents. She laughed and talked about goals and forgot to be anxious or self-aware. She smiled. The most glorious smile I’ve ever seen on her face.
Over the past six months, she’s figured out who her tribe is, who she wants to be, and how comfortable she is when she’s doesn’t pretend to be someone else. She’s discovered that working hard for something, and taking risks, is worth it. She’s brave enough to say what she wants, even if it’s as basic as a taco, and go get it.
She turned a corner.
I went to Baton Rouge on Friday with an anxious ten-year-old who suffered under the weight of her own anxiety for years. I came home with a self-assured young girl who is figuring out her place in the world. And I’ve turned a corner, too. I can breathe. Just a little. And I get to watch her see what’s around that corner, and how she wants to manage it.
We will still have anxious moments. I’m not naïve enough to believe this is the end. But it’s a strong beginning. I’m so proud of her, but, more importantly, she’s proud of herself.
So fellow parents, if you feel yourself under water right now because your child is struggling, I just wanted you to know. Eventually, they’ll wade on their own. And eventually, they will swim.
Wonderful article Jen! And congrats to your precious girl.