The diving board

By Mir
June 19, 2006

I made a critical error today. Today was too much fun for Monkey. Like, all-day-long bouncing happy shiny FUN FUN FUN.

Which means that tomorrow, I am screwed.

[Don’t believe me? Here’s what happened at bedtime:
Monkey: MAMA! I LOVED TODAY! Tomorrow will be EVEN BETTER!
Me: Um, well, I loved today too, Buddy, but tomorrow might be less exciting.
Monkey: No WAY! Let’s do it all again tomorrow!
Me: We’ll see.
Monkey: Maybe we can do MORE!
Me: *softly weeping*]

So if you don’t hear from me tomorrow, it’s because I decided to take Monkey to Disneyland….

So tomorrow is Chickadee’s last! day! of! school! and I’ll have one more chance to show Monkey how awful it really is, hanging out with me. Perhaps I’ll lock him in his room for the day.

I joke. I would never do that. Why lock a child in their room when there are floors to be scrubbed?

Anyway. We ran some errands this morning and then ended up having a friend come over; her mom was overextended so we just kidnapped her for the day. So much for quality time with Mama! Nope, it was puzzles, and games, and running around in the sprinkler outside, and maybe Mama will put some food in front of us periodically, but other than that, who cares! I have decided that from now on, Monkey shall only have play dates with girls. The two of them played for about four hours with nary a raised voice. There was no arguing. There were no disagreements about what to do next. I watched them leap through the sprinkler a dozen times, giggling wildly, and the next time I peeked outside they were ROLLING AROUND in a mud wallow they’d dug. But it was impossible to be upset, because they’d played together so well all day.

(On second thought, I don’t think I can chalk this up to his playmate being a girl. Chickadee’s a girl, and sometimes I have to separate the two of them before they kill each other or burn down the house. Clearly my friend’s daughter is just an ALIEN. A friendly, agreeable mud-loving alien. We’ll just have HER over again.)

Chickadee hopped off the bus, wilting in the heat, wanting to know if SHE could go in the sprinkler as well. Our friend was collected and we said our goodbyes, and Chickadee went to get her swimsuit on. In the meantime, our friends with a pool (I highly recommend having at least one friend with an in-ground pool) called to invite us for swimming and dinner. Woo!

Off we went to go turn ourselves into chloriney prunes.

The (collective) group of kids splashed and ran around and invented games and–later–ate their weight in hot dogs. A successful afternoon all around.

At one point, the younger kids were off playing on the swingset and my friend and her 11-year-old son and I were the only ones in the pool.

“J just learned how to DIVE!” she told me, giving him a friendly poke. “He should show you.”

“Mom….” I’m as sympathetic to the plight of the awkward pre-teen as the next mom, but J was in trouble here with me, despite his obvious embarrassment.

“Really, J? Show me?” He peered at me, probably trying to figure out if I was feigning interest. “Please show me?” I persisted. “You’re 11, right?” He nodded. “I couldn’t dive until I was about 14, and I’m still lousy at it. Show me your dive!”

He swam to the edge and climbed out. I watched as he ambled out to the end of the diving board, positioned his feet, clasped his hands up and out, and carefully dove into the water. We moms beamed at him.

“That was awesome, J! Really, I don’t even know if know how to dive anymore. That was great.” He blushed while his mom assured me that OF COURSE I still know how to dive. I decided to try it.

Here’s the thing with me and diving: I swam like a fish from my earliest memories. I love the water. I’m a solid swimmer–not the fastest or the strongest but capable enough. I went to summer camp every year and rose through the ranks of swim classes at a predictable speed. And then I stalled out.

Because I couldn’t dive.

I was not allowed to progress to Junior Lifesaving until I could dive, and I couldn’t dive. Everyone tried to teach me how. And the more they tried to teach me, the more freaked out I became, and the less I wanted to learn.

I forget exactly how it happened… I’m pretty sure it involved a VERY patient camp counsellor and a month of the finest ridicule my fellow campers had to offer… but I finally learned to dive. Sort of. I learned to take off with my feet in such a way that my fingertips went into the water first and my toes went in last, and if I was lucky, what transpired inbetween those two events would be quick and not too painful.

It’s been twenty years since I learned how, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d attempted a dive.

So this afternoon, I swam to the ladder and pulled myself out of the water. I walked out to the end of the diving board and looked down. Understand, this isn’t a high dive. This is a nice pool, but a family pool in the backyard. The diving board is maybe two feet above the surface of the water, if that.

I stood on the end of the board and looked down and remembered why it took me so long to learn how to dive. “Wow, you know, I feel like a complete idiot,” I called out to my friend. “I’m afraid of heights, you know. I get queasy up here and I’m barely elevated. I suck.” I laughed and jumped into the water.

When I surfaced, my friend asked me if I really get queasy on the board. I confirmed that I do. I felt really silly. The 11-year-old was looking at me like he really wanted to laugh, but was too polite to do so.

“Okay, maybe I can start by just diving off the side,” I found myself saying. Over to the ladder again. Up out of the water again. Standing on the edge, next to the board. Looking down. Still queasy.

I hate entering the water head first. I hate being propelled deep down under the water and I hate getting water up my nose and I hate having to worry about where my legs are and what they’re doing. I hate worrying that if I don’t curl enough I’ll belly-flop and if I curl too much, maybe I’ll slam into the wall.

But mostly I hate not being able to look at the water while I go in. I hate tucking my head down and entering the water blind.

My toes curled over the edge while I studied the water, thought about where to put my arms, how to push off, where I needed to aim. I took a big breath and pushed off.

It was a sloppy dive, but a dive nonetheless. I surfaced halfway down the pool. My friend and her son cheered. J and I took turns diving for a bit–I did a few more off the side–and then he got bored.

I climbed out again and headed for the board. By now, the other kids were back, and Chickadee sat on the steps at the shallow end chanting “CannonBALL! CannonBALL!” My toes twitched on the edge of the board, and I bounced slightly. I’d done 4 or 5 dives by now. No problem. I launched.

Ow. Not quite a belly-flop… more like a face-flop. I’d not maintained the chin-tuck, and my face stung. I decided I need to get one perfect dive under my belt before I could stop. So I cycled through and dove three or four more times.

Every single time I walked out to the end of the diving board, my stomach lurched. Every time I tucked my chin into my chest, my vision narrowed.

I kept waiting for it to get easier, and it never did. But I kept doing it.

When I stopped–satisfied that I’d refined my form insofar as well possible–my friend insisted that if she didn’t know that I’d had trouble, she would’ve just assumed I’d been diving my whole life. “You looked good,” she said. “Nice and confident.”

I swam around a bit, feeling conflicted… and when Chickadee whacked her head on the edge over by the steps, I was happy to get out and curl up on a chair with her for a bit.

I wanted to be pleased with myself for practicing, even though I hated every second of it. Instead, I felt melancholy. Why didn’t it get any easier? Was continuing in the face of my fear admirable or just pointless?

As I handed Monkey his clothes to change into, he flashed me that grin of his and said, “You did some good diving out there, Mama! In the DEEP WATER!” I rumpled his hair and thanked him.

But all I could think was, why didn’t it get any easier?


  1. Library Mama

    Careful – don’t let Chickadee catch wind of that trip! ;)

    Love your blog.

    As Arnold would say, “I’ll be back!”

  2. Sheryl

    It’s absolutely admirable. Especially since it never got any easier. As a person who sucks at doing hard things, I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say I think it’s heroic!

  3. Irony Queen

    100% a good thing. Even if you didn’t get better at the diving or experience some personal growth, look at the good role modeling you’re doing for the kids! Some things in life are hard. We can’t all be great at everything, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it out. Taking risks is good.

    I was a three-sport athlete in high school and to this day the things that freak me out the most are the physical ones where I’m not sure my body is going to do what I want it to. Yep, it’s scary. But it would be even scarier if I didn’t make the attempt.

  4. David

    Hmm. Scared to dive, but swim like a fish, eh? Clearly, you are better suited to the Olympic Swimmer’s Racing Dive: low, shallow, from pool’s edge, etc.
    …or CannonBALLs. *grin*

  5. Bob

    Bravo! You not only faced what is obviously a deep-seated fear but you persisted against it. I admire you for doing so. Please don’t be discouraged that the fear isn’t gone. It takes time to overcome your fears. From what little I’ve seen about overcoming such fears you are doing exactly what you should be doing – starting small. Please keep in mind that diving a half dozen times after not having done so for years won’t cure you. Facing your fears is the first, biggest step – but only the first.

    Maybe you should bring this up in your next therapy session.

  6. Steff

    I encountered a similar situation last weekend. The first dive was good, the second was a “boobie flop”!!

  7. peek

    Surely you know that not everything in life is easy, right? What is important here is that you didn’t give up and your children witnessed you trying over and over again. They didn’t see you admit defeat because you couldn’t do it. Maybe some things in life never really get easier, they will always be a struggle but there is something to be learned from that. I’m proud of you!

  8. chris

    Those hard things that never get easier… yeah they suck. And if we are talking in metaphors, yeah still suck.

    If it makes you feel any better, and why wouldn’t it;-), I can’t dive. As much as I would love to go scuba diving, I never could because that backflip off the side of the boat would send me into a full blown panic attack. How pathetic am I?

    But you? You kept on doing it even though you didn’t want to. And that is awesome.

  9. hollygee

    I almost couldn’t qualify for my girl scout swim badge. My mom ( the leader) and her best friend (co-leader) were teaching the whole troup. I could swim just fine, but I couldn’t swim underwater as I would bob to the surface before completing the distance. I guess I had one lucky moment, because I did eventually get my badge (need I tell you that I was slim- not swim-challenged?).

  10. Randi

    That’s great that you just kept going though, especially since it didn’t seem to get any less scary! It’s something your kids can look up to. A life lesson..”see, mommy just kept doing it, and even though it didn’t get any less scary, I was getting better”

    Kids: “Yeah, well, until you did that face flop….”

  11. Carmen

    Mir, I HATE to dive. I can’t do it to save my life.

    And look how well I turned out…..

  12. tori

    I am a strange one in that I actually seek out things that terrify me and do them over and over ESPECIALLY if they never seem to get easier. I never learned how to dive though. In fact, I never really learned how to swim. Three years ago when I decided I wanted to try doing a triathlon, I had to teach myself to swim. Except I could only do backstroke. So I did an entire swim part (one mile) of a triathlon on my back! Maybe someday I will learn to swim well like a “regular person”. But I doubt it will ever feel natural and I bet it will always be scary for me! The key is to keep trying even if it scares you. That is what makes you such a strong person…the fact that you do it anyway!

  13. Jessica

    Ugh. Diving. I am in the boat with you there, and if I have to dive to get out of the boat, that’s where I’m staying. I finally had one very, very patient instructor teach me how to do a very rudimentary dive, but that was about it. And that was only because my little brother was already diving off the side. The power of sibling rivalry. And the high dive? Even just jumping off, no diving? Forget about it. Kudos to you for facing your fears so well.

  14. Lesley

    Me? I don’t know why it didn’t get any easier for you and I’m also not so sure why you kept at it if it upset you…But admittedly, I’m waaaaay too laid back for my own good. I think you need a friend like me! ; )

  15. Brenda

    Same as you: swam like a fish as far back as I can remember. I do actually dive pretty well (I had swim classes, and they made us practice our entry position on dry land a lot), but I could NEVER bring myself to dive off the high board. Jump, yes, dive, no.

    Then, watching the Olympics one summer, I saw a diver hit his/her (I don’t remember) head on the board, leaving a trail of blood, and the announcers and audience freaking out. At which point I totally freaked. So I never learned to do flips or anything fancy, and I still won’t dive off the high board.

  16. Aimee

    Another non-diver here, and for exactly the reasons you said. Good for you for doing it, though. You are 2 cool 4 school.

  17. shannon

    As a girl who stopped going to swimming lessons the day the instructor PUSHED me underwater to retrieve the sponge from under her foot (and left me inhaling, not swallowing, half the water in the pool) I never learned how to dive.

    You are my hero…

  18. H.A. Page

    Well, take the plunge and enjoy. There isn’t anything more fun than treading water when you’re exhausted, closing your eyes and going off the high dive when your knees are shaking, and getting chilled when you just want to get warm and dry.

    The metaphor of motherhood.

    My children made a top 10 wanna-do list for summertime. It made a great way to get our jobs done (reading, writing, chores) to go do our fun stuff. Who would have ever thought that eating ice cream three days in a row at three different ice cream places would make the top 10 list? It did and we did.

    Summer. Fun in the Sun. Memories to last a lifetime.


  19. The Other Leanne

    Same way I feel about flying. But still I have a ticket for Boston on Thursday. You keep plunging headfirst into that pool, and I’ll put one foot in front of the other until I’m on the plane.

  20. alice

    A question I ask myself over and over …

    Repetition takes away the ‘ohmygodohmygodohmygod’ fear of the unknown, and helps get us more competent, but often just doesn’t go beyond that.

    This is an interesting question for me, because I can’t decide whether it’s perfectly fine to avoid hard things that aren’t necessary, or whether there’s an inherent value in doing difficult stuff. The answer, as always, lies in the middle, but I’m still trying to get a feel for what that means on a day-to-day basis.

    And off topic to Chris – when I’ve gone scuba diving, they’ve *always* had us step off the side of the boat – no backflips in sight.

  21. Cele

    Mir, as always you entertain us with your self-deprecating adventures. But this one brings to mind Mastercard commercials…

    lawnsprinkler – $24
    friend with inground pool – $35,000
    being your kids hero – priceless

  22. Heath

    Your dives were awesome! I am so sorry you felt like that afterwards- I had no idea!
    Thanks for not mentioning the daggers! :)

  23. Patricia

    I’d love to say half the great things that people already told you. I can tell you that after taking diving lessons every summer for YEARS, I can only do the basics (like fall into the water head first almost on purpose) — and I’m not scared — I’m uncoordinated, but not scared. I can remember that *I* was the one the coach pointed at and said “this is the way I want you to look from the beginning through the approach — but after that, do nothing that she does.” Yup, I was the picture of poise and confidence until I started to move. Let me tell you how that builds confidence in a 12 year old.
    I wish I had the “keep trying” it will get better speech. I don’t, because I do believe some things just don’t. There are some things we are always going to be a little fearful when we do and frankly I’m not sure that those things do get any better. Yes, we gain at little more confidence in the outcome; but when we stand on the edge (literal or otherwise) and think about it, we pause every single time. In a lot of ways I want to believe everyone has one or two of those things that give us pause. I’m just not convinced that this goal is to loose the “fear”, but to work through it. If you had no fear, you would go through life like a daredevil, and that is just as bad as going through life afraid of air. In my mind a little fear keeps us balanced and safe. Being able to push through a little fear to do something like diving (or for some it may be speaking in public or blogging or a thousand other things) builds confidence, but continuing to have a grain of fear keeps us grounded.
    And as I’ve told you before, you encouraged me to face one of my fears — and every single day I feel it raise in my throat a little — and no it hasn’t gotten any easier; but the rewards make it worth the little bit of panic. So, thanks, Mir — as always.

  24. InterstellarLass

    I never had a problem diving off the low boards, but the high-dive got me. I could go off feet first, but head first was a challenge in courage. I would have to muster up the guts to do it, but going off head first was easier than backing down and feeling like a failure.

  25. Stacy

    I hate when that happens. Yesterday we had a great time swimming and playing outside and I had to gently remind my daughter that we couldn’t swim today because she had to go to school. Ouch!

  26. Snow

    I suspect that even if it wasn’t getting easier, you taught your kids that trying your best is worth a lot.

  27. Gillian

    I am way old. When I was about six I was expecting a piece of mail that mattered to me. No one had gone out to get the mail that day. I was very scared of the dark, with some good reasons for being so. The draw was strong enough that I got a flashlight and took the long walk to the mailbox right through my terror.

    8 months ago I had my first dealings with the DAV. My military service was a lifetime ago in the Vietnam era. I was invited to a stand down, which is a gathering of representatives of all services available to veterans in your locality set up to seem a bit like a county fair. I got off the bus and started down the hill. Oddly, after going about twenty feet I turned around and started walking away. I scowled and turned back. I had no idea what had just happened but I felt embarassed, as if I had tripped on the sidewalk. I bounced off this invisible wall two more times before I stopped cold and tried to figure out what I was doing. I was terrified. I was not breathing, not thinking, roaring in the ears panicky.

    This walk in the dark is a quagmire, an abyss and a minefield. I don’t have any idea what is at the end of this path. I have to walk it because I just cannot do it. It will take a long time to cover the distance this time. But I am a lot stronger and more practiced at doing what I cannot do. It takes a big terror to challenge me now.

    Enter enormous terror laced with inexplicable rage stage left. I suspect once it gets easier, then you get dealt a new hand. It is a bit like the first video game I ever played. It took me forever to finally explode everything on the screen before it crushed my little icon. When I did it at last and was making conquering hero noises to the ceiling the first screen reappeared filled with enemies again but looming closer than before. I am not sure what I expected. It would seem to be obvious that was how it worked, but I was so fixed on the task I lost perspective.

    So, fear always feels like fear and that is the same. If the dark still terrified me I would also be humiliated that I was afraid of something childish. So, the screen is always much more challenging — it only seems the same.

  28. Amy-Go

    It didn’t get easier because things that suck never do. The fact that you did it anyway means you’re a real, certified grown-up. And you know what? There aren’t as many of those as you might think. Good for you! ;)

  29. carmen

    No Tues. post yet so I’m asuming you went to disney? Better you than me.

  30. carmen

    No Tues. post yet so I’m asuming you went to disney? Better you than me.

  31. JGS

    I know you’re worried about why it didn’t get any easier, but I, of course, want to give you something different to think about. Think about how you were modelling for Monkey. Think about what he learned about his mother today, about the kind of person she is, that she is human, that she has fears, but that she faces them with determination and conviction instead of running away or hiding.

    Maybe it didn’t feel as good as you would’ve liked. But what you did was good, good for yourself and good for Monkey and I believe that is what is most important and thinking of that might help you feel better.

    You did good, real good.

  32. Ashley

    I was recruited for the diving team in college. The coach thought that the sight of my long, skinny legs gracefully sinking into the water after a perfect half pike would win the team the championship. They forgot to ask about my two left feet. I hit my head on the board on an inward dive and never went back.

    The fear may never go away, but at least you don’t let it dictate how you live your life. That’s the key.

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