After eyeing the sea of swimmers milling about before the swim meet begins, I turn my focus to my seven-year old at my side. Her head’s down and shoulders angled to the side as if to buttress against an invisible wind.
“What’s going on sweets? Are you okay?” I ask.
“Mom, don’t you remember that I’m shy?” she smiles back.
She got me. No, I hadn’t frankly though she’s had a more introverted temperament since toddlerhood. It’s just far easier for me, the extrovert, to assume by defensive posture that someone’s wounded her feelings or she’s worried about the upcoming swim. But she’s just being who she is.
Somewhere in the world of “please” and “thank you’s” and “wipe your chin” it’s easy to lose sight of the gray line between what’s expected and who your child is. I can’t make her enter a social event with her head held up high and an approachable smile across her face if I tried. And I have tried in my naive mother-in-perpetual-training state. Our compromise of sorts is her awareness of how entering smiling helps when you’re feeling unsure and my encouragement to “just be yourself.”
From a few lanes over I watch her line up for her swim heat. I’m anxious and feeding off the nervous energy around me. Lauren’s a picture of calm: focused and serene. “Doesn’t she realize that she’s about to swim?” I think to myself, my thought suddenly interrupted by the buzzer and splash as little bodies hit the water.
On the other end, I see her pull herself out of the water and look back to find me. Pink goggles look to me and a huge smile meets mine and I give her a thumbs up.
In a second, she’s darted through the crowds to my side, leaning against my hip draped in a wet towel. “You did great Boo Boo,” I exclaim, not knowing her time or how she placed.
“I know,” she says simply. “Thanks. Can I now go get a donut, please?” Happily skipping off she’s on her way.