He cried in the water.
Sat on the pool steps and shed pieces of his little heart. They bobbed and floated away, borne on the surface as light as the oak leaves we’d skimmed off moments before.
He wept in the bath, bubbles turning to film, squeaky ducks and rubber cars indifferent to the breakdown.
“I can’t do it,” he moaned. He was opened and grieving, all of him. My ribs collapsed, everything tumbling in at once like a building dynamited from the inside. I wanted to pull him back into me, hold him in my center where he could curl up and float again, everything already wet, already submerged, already safe and certain. He was so sad, and I realized all at once how rarely he had to be sad. Mad, bumped and tumbled, denied, envious, tired, and wanting all had their regular turns, but genuine sadness was rare and, insomuch, loomed large and grim for him. What this hurting, pulled-away thickness must have felt like to him- he of such little perspective. It was totality, and he cried and cried.
When I pull him out of the waters, I wrap towels and love around him, holding and rubbing, warming and kissing the top of a head that just can’t get wet. The desire to falls short of the fear, by just one nerve.
“Next time,” I tell him. “You were so brave.”
“We twy again anothuw day,” he whimpers, acquiescing to the warmth and security of terra firma, of an empathetic, rocking lap.
The desire holds fast; I know it will tug harder one day and the fear will falter and he will let the wet glass slip over his brow, puddle in his ears, slick his dandelion hair. It is not for me to make him do it, nor his dad or swim teacher or the new toys promised him. Only that third parent, Time, can tug him forward to a place of readiness, so we all wait.