"Hold onto this," I tell my son, holding out a floating barbell for him to grab. Instead, he screams. While the other 2-and 3-year-olds cheerfully sing along to "The Alphabet Song" before jumping into the pool, and their waiting parents' arms, my little guy stands, knees bent, reaching for me, his face covered in tears.
As I try to convince him to wear the flotation belt, he shouts, "No! I don't want!"
The instructor wades up. Softly, she says, "Maybe he's just not ready yet. Why don't you go back to the Water Babies class for a while."
I'd been bringing my son to Water Babies since he was 6 months old, and he'd enjoyed learning to paddle, kick and float, with my loving hands to support him and guide him. He must have realized that, if he grabbed that barbell, he'd have been committing to a path that would one day mean no mommy in the water with him. He wasn't ready to rely on a flotation device instead of Mommy's comforting hands.
Fast-forward six months. I suspected he might be ready to move up, so after his Water Babies class, I cradled him on my lap in his duck towel, and we watched the more advanced class together. He remarked with amazement at the kids kicking while wearing swim belts and holding onto flotation barbells, their parents still at their sides, supporting them. When the class ended, I asked him if it looked like fun, and he said yes.
The following week, we tried the class again, and this time his reaction was the polar opposite. He clapped cheerfully along with the songs, readily wore the flotation device the teacher called a "Superman belt," and even chatted up a little girl, introducing himself by saying, "Hi! I'm 2."
Now, three weeks later, he's started crying again: when we leave.
Being a parent means being patient. I'll never forget the advice I read in an article by a mom talking about the frustrations of the "Terrible Twos." She counseled readers to remember that "it's just a phase." In fact, it's all a phase, even the things you love. Someday my son will be too big to sit in my lap. He might push my hand away with irritation when I try to smooth his hair. He may no longer bring me stacks of books to read to him, but instead, will secret himself in his room with his Kindle. It's all a phase, and I shouldn't be in such a rush for him to grow out of the phases I don't like, because he'll also grow out of the ones I do.
Patience has been a hard lesson for me. I'm like the impatient martial artist wannabe in the classic Frantics comedy sketch, "Ti Kwan Leep," who wants to know how long before he can "beat people up." When the instructor tells him to develop patience, he counters, "Patience? How long will that take?"
If I'd learned earlier to wait for the right moment, like a fisherman tossing back immature fish, I would have thrown back my first marriage; or that ill-fated museum marketing job with a micromanaging boss; or countless other impulsive choices.
Though some might think I waited too long to have a child -- I was 39 when he was born -- I'm glad that, for once, I waited until the time was right. When nosy neighbors ask me when I'll have a second one (an impractical suggestion at my age of 42), I tell them I got it right the first time. And as I watch him buzzing around the living room, playing with his new word puzzles -- my bright, busy boy -- I know he was worth waiting for.