Happy birthday, sweet sixteen

As I watch the sun set on my sons childhood I can’t help but reflect on some lessons I’ve learnt over my fundamental years.  Some have been ingrained whilst others smack me up the side of the head when I least expect it as if to remind me that I should have known better.

No staying back at work last night as John was turning 16.  Birthday dinner booked in at Rockpool - delightful as always Mr Perry - filled with wonderful food and much love and laughter, followed by many wrong turns (and I wasn’t even driving!) and more laughter on the way home.  Lying in bed after a wonderful night, I couldn’t help but think of all that lay ahead of John, the lessons he still has to learn and the experiences that he will have, and of course that lead to much reflection.  What have been some of the most important lessons that I have learnt?

There have of course been many, too many to detail here but after much though and navel gazing one incident stands out as the most compact teacher of things I have learnt.  Don’t get me wrong the people out there and the things that have happened have been many and varied, but this one day stands out as a microcosm of life lessons. the journey there will take a while - settle in as we travel back in time (I’m picturing the screen waving us back into the past - you getting that too?)

A brief history:

I didn’t really learn to swim properly until about 8 years ago - watching the kids have their lessons taught me a lot, and we had a pool where I could practice in isolation and peace, as well as some trials on the lounge room floor.  I had a healthy fear of swimming since I was a small child which I attribute firmly to the family beach trip when my father decided it was time I learnt to swim.  Dad’s idea of teaching you to swim was to take you out into the ocean, an unmeasured distance, he tells it as about a kilometre, I am inclined to agree with this, but I had child size eyes so everything looked bigger or longer than it really was.  Once the people back on the sand had been reduced to ant size he got you to float and then when you were doing that well, he swam back to shore (well, out of my eye sight anyway - he was close in case I got into what he called real trouble).  Literally I was left to sink or swim. I couldn’t tread water (still can’t properly) and went under quite a few times, my spluttered screams and my tiny arms were unnoticed back on shore.  Deciding I didn’t want to die, I did the only thing I could, I floated on my back and once I regained my breath I steadily kicked my way back to shore.  It took 45 minutes.  I was exhausted, sunburnt and didn’t speak to Dad for a week, as I remember, neither did Mum.

As you would suspect this gave me a healthy distrust of water that didn’t come from a tap.  Any suggestion of swimming sent shivers down my spine.  This however was not the lesson.

We had been having swimming lessons at school for years, however the instructors at the pool would test us at the beginning of each year to assess our ability.  Having none, I was relegated to spend my time in the kiddy pool with the other non-swimmers, splashing around.  This seemed like a much better idea to me than the terror of being forced to swim laps and the instructor didn’t want to bother with kids that couldn’t swim so it was a win-win. In the later years of primary (grade) school there were new instructors and we non-swimmers got very excited at our improving skill.  This however is not the lesson.

School Swimming Carnival - Grade 4 (you can see where this is heading right? Guess again)

Our school had a policy that everyone had to compete, part of our educational arsenal apparently.  So I as forced to swim.  The only stroke I was half decent at was backstroke, and by half decent I mean I resembled a carriage with two very wonky wheels travelling through a muddy field.You could automatically rule out any stroke that required my face to be in water as I enjoyed breathing, still do actually.  Backstroke also meant I could start the race in the water, and avoid diving or belly flopping if we are calling a spade a spade.

We line up for the race breath held tight in my chest and wait for the gun.  An explosion of noise fills the air and rings in my ears as the gun is shot from right in front of me.  Startled,  I’m slow off the wall, I throw myself backwards hard to catch up and succeed in doing the one thing I am trying to avoid, I’ve thrown myself under the water too far and struggle as I come upright in the pool, gagging.  Using the lane barriers for support I recompose and start my stroke.  But it’s too late, I am already too far behind.  Much spluttering and flailing later and I can hear the cheers and whoops of victory as I touch for the turn, sadly with my head as my arms hit the edge of the pool mid stroke.  I look around and people are still racing so I decide to keep going.  I won’t give up.  As I begin my second lap, everyone is calling for me to gat out of the pool - the race was over.  I stop, clinging to the lane barrier and look at those waiving at me from the side of the pool, calling for me to get out.  The older kids, my classmates and teachers, the people I’m meant to listen to.

I decide to keep going, another 5 meters and there screaming at me - they want to start the next race.  Tears sting my eyes along with the chlorine.  the gun goes off and before I know it there are people swimming past me, the girl swimming in my lane swears at me and pushes out of the way as she passes.  Clearly I am slowing her down.  What should I do?  I start to give up and then, out of nowhere, two of the tuck shop ladies are telling me to keep going and not give up.  They’re waving me forward and I decide to continue.  They are walking along the edge of the pool clapping and cheering me and I swim to the end.  I get out of the pool and there they are - my own little support team.  I didn’t feel like a winner, but I felt like I had achieved something great for me.  There was much mocking from the other students, some very nasty comments and a stigma that lasted a few weeks until some disaster befell some other poor student.  I resolved that day to get better at swimming and whilst it took a few decades, I have.  This tale is not one of woe, I don't see it that way, that day, that swim taught me so much, including but not limited to:

  • Surround yourself with people that support you and believe in you
  • Don’t expect everyone to be on your side
  • Treat people well and they will reciprocate
  • Positivity and good things can come at you from the most unlikely sources
  • Be prepared to move out of your comfort zone
  • You are capable of more than you know
  • Do not give up - the end is not as far as you think
  • It’s OK to fail as long as you learn from it
  • If you're going to fail - try not to do it too spectacularly, or, do it spectacularly, you decide
  • It is possible to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat
  • You never know when a life lesson will be presented to you
  • You can accomplish anything - just need to put some time and effort in
  • As winston Churchill said - If you’re going through hell, keep going
  • This too shall pass
  • Random acts of kindness change the world.
  • Don’t breath underwater
  • Every cloud has a silver lining - may take a while to locate it though
  • Get your children proper swimming lessons - Don’t worry Dad - all is forgiven, I still love you.
  • It’s OK to suck at some things
  • Wear sunscreen - still learning this one - slip slop slap people
  • You are in control - choose your own adventure

Happy Birthday Boo