Jaden sped off in a rhythmic walk…trot…walk…gallop…across the scorching “cool deck” around the pool toward the base of the high dive. He stared up the 10ft ladder briefly, then steadily made his way upward. Rung after rung. He pulled himself up onto the long blue board and walked cautiously out beyond the handrail. He was not unfamiliar with diving boards. He and Dillon had been jumping off of them since last summer… just never at this height. I stood and watched as he smiled nervously and then shook his head. He returned quickly to the ladder. A lifeguard came over and helped him back down the ladder. I didn’t say anything to him about it. I just smiled at him and waved from across the pool. He was processing it all, and I needed to let him do that. Jaden took a few turns off of the lower board, and as he was swimming out, I noticed Dillon at the top of the high dive. Dillon looked around… he waved to me… and jumped off the edge; smiling the whole way down. Jaden watched and went back to the line at the low dive.
Ethan and I stood and watched the boys take a few more turns… Jaden from the low board, and Dillon from the high dive… then we all went over to the basketball hoop in the shallow end. After a couple minutes, Jaden got a big grin and started over to the high dive. I followed over with him. As Jaden stood at the top holding the rail, he began to retreat momentarily. He looked down at me, and then over to his mom and Dillon. Kendra was holding Ethan and Dillon was standing near them. All eyes were on Jaden. He looked back down to me and then turned forward and walked right off the edge…splash!
Later in the afternoon, after several more jumps from the high dive (including a couple front flips from Dillon – I’m not sure Kendra’s pulse rate has returned to normal) I pulled the boys aside individually to let them know how proud I was of them for conquering fear that day: Jaden – for coming to terms and addressing his fears on his own, and for continuing to jump until the looks of concern on the way down changed into expressions of joy; and Dillon – for putting his own fear secondary and making the leap first so that his brother could see and understand that the fear could be defeated in the first place. This is one of those “can’t even begin to explain” feelings… they never spoke about the diving board until they both jumped off the high dive. They would just watch each other. I studied Dillon watching Jaden jump from the high dive his 2nd time… he watched Jaden, expressionlessly, but seemed to get what he needed from his observation. A few minutes later, Dillon was at the top of the high dive doing a front flip into the pool. After his second flip, Jaden seemed to have released all fear and was genuinely enjoying himself up there.
Towards the end of the day, Kendra decided to be a sport and try the high dive. Dillon was done with the diving boards (apparently his work was done). He and I were playing basketball and splashing around. We paused to hold Ethan and watch Jaden and Kendra take their turns on the board. Jaden got to the top of the board and out past the handles, then quickly turned around and ran back to the ladder. I thought it odd, but he was smiling, so I just looked over to Dillon for some insight – poker face. Jaden leaned over the ladder and yelled something down to Kendra, then turned (grinning ear to ear) and ran down the board and bounced off into the pool. He waited by the ladder out of the pool for her. They laughed and ran back to the ladder and went up and in again like a couple of old friends. Even Ethan got into the action… he took a few turns off the low dive – the first time without even a life vest; and another time after he bounced too early and went off the side rather than over the front, he fought his way out of Kendra’s arms and back over to me on the deck so he could get back on the board and do it right (words cannot express how happy I am not to have a pool at home… this one would be jumping off our balcony or off the roof to circumvent the pool fence).
I asked Kendra what Jaden said to her when she was in line, and she told me he said “Don’t be afraid mom. Just don’t look down when you get up here!” And he was right…all three boys provided lessons for me that afternoon (I just know one day I am going to do something that THEY can learn from) Ethan reminded me about tenacity and being willing to forget failures quickly. Jaden showed the value of applying the examples of others to one’s own understanding and doing things at a pace with which one is comfortable, and also the beauty of paying that learning forward. Dillon demonstrated compassion and sacrifice… he could easily have gloated after he jumped in or teased his brother about being afraid. Instead, he saw his brother struggle with something, and demonstrated to him how it could be overcome until his brother was comfortable doing it and could take a lesson away from it on his own. Their behavior encouraged me… they even made me think jumping from an unstable fiberglass platform extending unsupported 10 feet over the surface of the 12 foot deep water looked like fun…so I took a couple turns off the high dive – something I had done exactly twice in my life.
Sometimes you just have to have faith… that it isn’t really as high as it looks, that you aren’t falling as far as it feels, that no matter how deep you go underwater you are never out of reach…sometimes you have to just keep stepping forward, remembering all the reasons you have to be brave… and not look down.