Our oldest daughter, Lydia, stood at the end of the diving board, bending her knees just a bit to test out the springiness. She’d jumped off the end plenty, but on this day, she wanted to dive.
I cheered and instructed from the side of the pool. “Hold your arms tight against your ears, and keep your chin down. You can do this, hon.”
She had done it dozens of times from the edge of the pool. The only difference now was the elevated platform.
So she tried. And tried. And tried again.
Most times, she landed in a sort of upside-down U shape, with her feet cutting into the water at the same time as her hands.
Each time, she’d surface from the water, looking more and more crestfallen as the afternoon wore on. I stayed poolside, cheering and applauding. Some of the other moms, standing in the shallow end, had begun a slow chant — Lydi-A! Lydi-A! — each time she ascended the diving board stairs. Even the lifeguard offered encouragement.
But as the end of the afternoon neared, I could hear the tears hanging on the wobbly edge of Lydia’s voice.
“Why can’t I do it, Mom? I don’t understand.”
I told her that she could do it … that it was really no different than diving off the edge of the pool.
Except, of course, that it was different. Because now, the elevated board underneath her feet was trying to intimidate her. That board had been bossing her around all afternoon, trying to make her think she was a chicken.
But the thing was, she’d already talked back to that bossy diving board. She’d already jumped, and gotten it wrong. And then got it sort-of-close-to-right, and then wrong again. But she still kept going back, and that was how she could know she’d already grown bigger than her fears.
Courage isn’t really courage, I told her, if the thing she had to do wasn’t scary.
She stood next to me, at the edge of the pool, once more, with water dripping off the end of her nose. “But Mom?” she said. “I’m mostly worried that I’ll belly-flop. I’m worried that it will hurt.”
I thought about telling her that she wouldn’t belly-flop if she simply stretched out long and let her feet fly high. But that simply wasn’t true. Whenever we jump, we risk the belly-flop. And yes, it might sting.
So that’s what I told her. I told her that in life, some stuff — like diving — might actually hurt. Even if you’ve done the same thing before, from a safer place.
Sometimes, on the way to wherever you’re going? It can sting. But what stings didn’t have to stop us.
So she climbed those stairs once more, stood at the end, while the other mothers cheered, “Lydi-A! Lydi-A!” She pressed her arms against her ears, held her chin to her chest, and for the first time ever, she cut a hole through the water — hands, head, legs then feet.
She surfaced up through the skin of water, with a raised fist, triumphant. She had done what she thought she couldn’t do.
And I raised my happy fist in the summer air, cheering wildly for a brave, brave girl.
Jennifer Dukes Lee also encourages us to never give up, When You Want to Throw in the Towel