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Tales From the 4th: Fresh Perspectives on Independence

July 5, 2010

Wisdom of a Teenage Lifeguard
On this Fourth of July, I overheard the lifeguard at my parents’ pool telling a swimmer, “I wasn’t supposed to walk.”

I told her I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but that I love talking to people who have overcome challenges they were born with because their stories inspire my optimism for my son’s future.

She told me she was born with a physical deformity of her hip and femur, and doctors offered a bleak prognosis for her ability to get around unassisted. “I think I’ve seen like 26 doctors in my life, and maybe one of them had something positive to say.”

Her parents could have wallowed in grief. But, luckily, they refused to listen to the naysayers. Her father started working with her, her mother stayed on her. She told me she did daily exercises that were simply a part of her life. “They were just ‘the thing’ I did after eating breakfast.”

She worked hard, she overcame. She proved the doctors wrong. She not only learned to walk, she now loves to run. She’s a lifeguard, who must be exceptionally physically capable in order to keep others safe. She modestly, yet clearly, revels in knowing how strong she is.

It’s because of that strength – accompanied by her parents’

abundance of determination — that this teenager can celebrate Independence Day every day.

The Freedom to Swim
Visiting my parents’ pool, at the club where I grew up, always brings the memories flooding back.

Early morning swim team practices in ice-cold water. Lunch from the snack bar. Lounging on the grass playing backgammon. Playground games of four square and newcomb.

This is not how my children live. They don’t just hang out by the pool. They have far more structured summers of camp and playdates and speech therapy. They haven’t had that much experience in the water.

For a few years, we didn’t make much of an effort because, honestly, going to the pool just wasn’t much fun. Mostly because the experience stressed out The Buddha, which in turn made for frustrated, stressed out parents.

This year has been different. After an initial outing that promised more of the same anti-swimming behavior, The Buddha has been showing a growing interest in being in the pool. This weekend, with two days of nothing to do but swim, he chose to spend hours in the pool with Daddy and a kickboard.

As for the Diamond, he’s more enthusiastic in the water, but he’s no natural. It’s gonna take some work to turn him into a confident swimmer. This weekend I watched him, too, take some small strokes toward independence in the water.

Who knows … soon, I may even have the freedom to swim a few laps.

Facing Fears of Fireworks
The fireworks were late. It was NOT what we needed.

The Buddha had told us he wanted to try the fireworks this year. He even sounded excited about it. So we packed up the chairs and blankets, piled in the van with my parents and went to a hill just a few minutes from their house. It’s a low-key spot to watch the show, more than a mile from the park where the fireworks are launched. The car sat right behind us … just in case.

But each passing minute allowed him extra time to let his fears get the best of him. He would get all worked up, remembering that last year’s light show had scared him so much that he had fled for the safety of the car. Then we’d get him calmed down – cajoling, teasing, distracting — only to have him soon cycle back to crying and pleading to go home.

As this went on, my husband and I debated our resolve to show him that he might actually enjoy the fireworks. Doubt crept in. Was it worth it? Would this lesson in overcoming anxiety actually carry over and help him in other anxiety-inducing situations? Were we mistakenly manufacturing a “teachable moment”? After all, it’s not like watching fireworks is a key life skill. And we certainly weren’t out to torture him.

With The Buddha’s worry on the rise and my patience wearing thin, I asked my husband to take him for a walk. Moments later, 25 minutes behind schedule, the fireworks began.

And moments after that, Buddha brought Daddy back and announced:

“I like fireworks!”

And with that, each of each saw our fears and doubts dissipate, like bright, noisy fireworks evaporating into smoke. Another milestone on The Buddha’s path to independence.

What Are Your Tales of Independence?

  • What inspired you this Fourth of July or on Independence Days past?
  • Where have you gained freedom in your life?
  • Where do you see possibilities for more freedom?
  • What fears and doubts could you let go of to experience your own Independence Day?

Please feel free (ha ha?) to share your stories and thoughts here.

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