As I’ve been doing all year, I escorted Boy Wonder to his weekly Splish, Splosh swimming lesson. Only this time, I didn’t get changed into my trunks as well and follow him into the water. He’s tall for his age – nothing to do with my pigmy heritage – and in the time we’ve been going together he’s arguably proved the most powerful of the little ducklings attempting ‘fast-kicking-legs’ and ‘long-scooping-arms’.
Still, I wasn’t expecting him to be granted the freedom of the swimming lane so soon. And at the very least, I thought I’d get to spend a few weeks sitting alongside the pool, providing a comfortable presence and the odd word of encouragement. But Coach even banished me to the far corner of the pool area, where adoring grannies sometimes congregate on plastic seats. Damn it, I even had to put bags over my shoes. I was now the grown-up version of the lad at my primary school who was banned from the learner pool because he kept shitting himself.
The grannies had bagged the best spots behind the velvet rope, meaning my view of the farther half of the lane was obscured by a whirlpool and an inconveniently located pillar holding up the roof. As my erstwhile ‘little boy’ dashed out of view, leaving me with just ripples to survey, I felt the pang of time shifting irreversibly and wallowed in a small but surprisingly deep pond of self-pity.
There are daily signals that Boy Wonder is growing up quickly: I only have to look at photos of the chubbier face from last Christmas or the trousers suddenly resembling knee-length shorts. But there are also definitive moments like today when I realise why more experienced parents repeatedly warn that They Grow Up So Fast. There are obvious milestones, for example when he moved up to pre-school, and more surprising ones like the premature end of my weekly stint alongside him in the pool.
In the face of a temporary personal crisis, I’m nothing if pragmatic. While they cruelly did jumps out of my view, I found myself fantasising that Coach would one day beg me to let him keep nurturing my son because ‘he’s got real promise and I’d love to take him to the Olympics’.
My revelry ended with a novel announcement from Coach: ‘We’re going to finish with a race.’ I ignored protocol and went and stood to the other side of the grannies. A couple of the less confident kids set off first and then the other five lunged into the water. Boy Wonder hesitated as splashes pummelled his face. He waited for a gap to emerge, moved to the side and then he was away.
He hit the front and powered ahead. Towards a ridiculously proud Dad who should know better. Towards, more importantly, his maiden victory. And possibly, just possibly, towards the 2024 Games. (I did say possibly.)
When he got out of the pool, his face beaming, I hugged his wet frame close. And held on.