Today we traveled.
3 hours one way.
The first diving meet of the season was our destination.
Canton, OH – home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Today we did not see that icon. Today we saw the incredible Natatorium of an ordinary high school.
Today he dove.
Today he survived.
Today he succeeded in overcoming so many of his fears.
Today, he kicked ass!
Earlier this week we considered getting a hotel room and not driving the 3 hours right before the meet. The cost never dropped below $89 so we didn’t do it. I’m so thankful that we didn’t.
Eli’s day started around 6:30am. He was ready to go from the moment his feet hit the floor. He willing left watching Ninjago to finish getting ready so that we could leave on time. The lengthy drive game him time to decompress. He had a Pokemon book to read, math problems to do, his Pokemon DS game and a video of Pokemon episodes at his disposal. He was so engrossed in all things Pokemon that he didn’t even ask are we there yet? until about 10 miles before the Canton exit.
We followed Coach’s directions to the parking lot and brought the car to a welcomed halt. Eli was convinced I had us in the wrong place until he saw his coach outside on his phone. We entered the building and he got changed. He couldn’t quite pull off the Speedo briefs today – too many nerves. There were others wearing the jammers so I let him do it too. No sense adding insult to injury.
All of the children (quadruple the amount he’s used to) lined up to warm up for an hour. His coach was nearby walking him through the dives to try. He struggled with the back jump. The third time was a charm and he nailed it. He practiced his other 3 dives as coach instructed. The final 15 minutes of the hour was for level one and level 2 divers only – he dived as a level 1 today. Higher level divers cleared the area leaving about 25-30 kids to dive. A small index finger and pleading eyes were beckoning me to come their way. I couldn’t help but respond.
I approached and saw his cheeks were red. As soon as I was near enough to hear him the tears started. Take me home mommy, I want to leave now. I don’t want to dive. Just get my towel and let’s go. My heart was breaking. I knew I needed to make him stay, make him go through this experience. I knew that this was the right thing to do. Still I felt like I was stabbing him in the back. I was most certainly not winning Mommy of the Year. Coach approached us and reminded me that I couldn’t be on the diving deck. It took everything I had to turn around and walk away from him. My terrified little man. Coach talked to him. I don’t know what he said. He did one more practice dive. He came and asked me for his towel and joined his teammates on the deck next to his coach to await the start of the competition.
He was lined up with the others, not really near his teammates. Every time he caught my eye he started to tear up and I caught him wiping his eyes. He never cried in front of anyone. But I knew. Still, when his feet touched that board he found the most intense focus I’ve ever seen.
His first dive was a forward jump. Easy, a no brainer. I can’t say that he nailed it but it was really one of the best times I’ve seen him do that dive. He was flat affect when he exited the pool. He wrapped himself up in his towel and got back in line. I tried to avoid his eye. I didn’t want him to cry again.
Dive two was a forward fall in. This dive he did nail. I’ve never seen him pull this one off this well, ever. Two of the judges gave him a perfect score. Finally a smile crossed his face. He knew he nailed it. He remembered why he came. Still when he caught my eye and I gave him a thumbs up he shook it off and returned to me a thumbs down.
Dive three was a front dive tuck. His favorite. Again, he didn’t nail it but was certainly focused and got decent scores. In my head I just kept willing him to get through one more dive. His last dive. He could do it, I knew he could. Then he could change his clothes and I could grant his wish to leave.
Dive four. The back jump. The one he struggled with so much in practice. He approached the end of the board. He had amazing form. He jumped up but not back as far as he should. His hand hit the board. My heart stopped beating. My lungs stopped breathing. But he emerged from the water with a smile and looked right at his coach who was simply shaking his head. He knew Coach would say something. He knew it would be like practice and Coach would give him shit about trying to kill himself. He smiled, grabbed his towel and came looking for me.
I don’t want to do this again mommy, ever. Skating sounds like fun. Yeah, I think I just want to do skating with Keegan. I don’t think I’ll do diving again. Now can I get changed and can we go home? Again my heart was silently breaking. My head told me that he needed to go back to diving, at least to fulfill the month. He had to face his fears again. Every fiber of my being wanted to wrap him up like I did when he was a baby and shelter him from everything that hurt or scared him. I paused somewhere in the middle and led him to the locker room to change.
He wanted to say goodbye to his coach before we fled the building. As he was exiting the locker room we heard someone say Eli loudly and we both assumed there must be another diver named Eli – the next 2 levels were warming up. We walked around the pool and over to his coach who grabbed him up. You missed it Eli! You took too long changing you goof! Here is your medal!!! And his eyes lit up like Christmas. A medal for diving. How amazing is that! We are still uncertain if everyone got a medal for participating or if he earned a medal for his score. He believes the latter and is anxious to dive at practice tomorrow. For now, that is mighty fine with me.
Today we learned lessons, both of us. Lessons in survival and lessons in success. We learned a lot about how each of us handles stress and being nervous. Eli couldn’t eat for much of the ride home because his stomach was too upset. I popped a couple of Tylenol to relieve the headache that mysteriously appeared about 30 minutes into the drive home. We learned that Eli can overcome the impossible (those things that seem impossible to him anyway). He was afraid of the water and somehow found a way to get beyond that and learn to swim and then willingly jump from a board multiple times into the water. He dealt with a large crowd, wearing nothing but a skin-tight swim suit, all eyes on him, surrounded by people he didn’t know. He was nervous as hell. But he did it. And I was capable of making him do it.
In the end it *was* for his own good, and mine.