When I walked into the pool area yesterday, one of my swimmers was waiting for me. She looked up at me with doleful eyes. The corners of her mouth were turned down. Way down.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, crouching down to talk with her.
She pressed her lips together and I could see her lower lip quivering.
“Is this because you moved up?” I asked. Technically, she wasn’t my swimmer anymore. She had moved up to the next group.
Almost imperceptibly, she nodded yes.
“Aw, Genna*,” I said, “we talked about this the other day. You are so ready to be part of the Orange group. Plus Coach Katy is super-fun, so much more fun than I am.”
She looked up at me doubtfully.
“Don’t worry about the warm-up. Coach Katy will tell you what to do,” I told Genna. “It’s different from ours, but you can do it.”
I was running out of encouraging/reassuring things to say to this sad little girl who obviously didn’t like change.
“Coach Sally,” she finally said in a tiny voice. I leaned in to hear what she had to say. “Coach Katy doesn’t have lollipops like you do.”
I laughed. At the beginning of the season, Genna had hung back, hesitant to try anything.
“What can I do to motivate her?” I asked her sister one day.
“Candy,” she replied.
I bought a bag of dum-dums. They were magical.
Yesterday I whispered to Genna, “I’ll give some lollipops to Coach Katy. Would that be good?”
Immediately her face brightened and off she went with her new coach. I sighed and headed to my lanes where my swimmers were already warming-up.
I studied the swimmers who were in the water. “Where’s Bern*?” I asked.
Bern had just moved into my group. Katy spotted him and brought him over to me. He stood shivering beside me, chewing on his goggle strap.
“They’re finishing their warm-up,” I told him. “You can get in and do 100 freestyle. We’ll be moving on to something else soon.”
He didn’t respond. His expression was inscrutable as he stared at the water and chewed his goggles.
“Do you know any of the other kids in this group?” I asked.
He took his goggle strap out of his mouth. “I don’t want to warm up,” he said.
“Warm-ups are important,” I said, and was about to launch into a mini-treatise on warming up when his mother came into the pool area and called him over.
Bern went over, stood in front of her, and immediately burst into tears.
I backed away. I had a dozen or so kids in the water who needed attention. Mom could talk to Bern.
I handed out kickboards and explained what we would be doing. The kids started their kick set. Every so often I looked back at Bern. He and his mother were having quite a tête–à-tête. Finally I saw Bern drying his tears.
Soon his newly-dried face wouldn’t matter because he jumped in the water and started swimming. He did fine.
At the end of practice his mother told me, “Bern doesn’t like change.”
“Neither do I,” I told her.
She said, “He told me, ‘I don’t care about swimming fast. I just want to swim with my brothers.'” His two younger brothers were still in the group he had graduated from.
With that, I appreciated Bern so much more.
We all hold onto things that are sweet and dear.
For Genna, it’s candy.
For Bern, it’s his brothers.
For me, it’s a thousand little things I want to freeze in time instead of watching my father age.
But time marches on, and change comes with it.
It will be okay.
*not their real name