She sat across the table from me, looking so grown up and beautiful – confident. Answering the questions from the advisor about her degree program, sharing her love of Spanish, and desire to continue with dance. They chatted about social work and had a brief discussion about what the 4-year plan with a bridge to a master’s program would look like. She led the conversation about her future, with me jumping in now and then with subtle suggestions about the schedule or with reminders about points she had forgotten. My role today was for moral support and to be a fail-safe; like all the other parents during freshmen enrollment day we were awkward and uncertain of exactly how much to hold on and let go. The dance was changing; roles uncertain; photos most certainly banned. College enrollment is about the emerging adult, and I wanted to respect the rite of passage going on all around me.
But then it happened: the moment arrived when it was too hard and heavy to hold up the adult mask over the child’s face. The only two classes she really wanted, Spanish and ballet, were offered at the exact same time. The primary elements from her high school years are now in direct competition with each other for survival. I struggled to push down the panic because I knew how hard this would hit. She had to pick between two loves and it proved to be too much of choice…..on top of a mountain of other adult choices all presented in one day. I watched my “little face” try to crawl on top of her emotions and not let on to all that was going on inside. Mom knew. I knew what was happening and I wanted to scoop her up in my arms and make it all, okay, to coach her down -as was our pattern – into rationalism away from emotionalism. To put a spin and new perspective on the data, but most of all knowing my girl as intimately as I do, give her time to process. She needed time. The advisor needed an answer. She avoided eye contact with me fearing a public crumbling.
“Sink or swim” is a colloquialism developing from, what I view to be, an authoritarian style for teaching someone how to swim. My father-in-law has a funny story of this methodology, but it’s not the sort of rough and tumble way I learned or taught my children to swim. Seems to me this thinking goes hand in hand with getting “thrown into the deep end of the pool.” Today these phrases have little to do with actual water activities. Instead, they both imply there are situations in life that require you to “figure it out” on the spot.
I’ll never forget this moment when I watched Lydia figure out how to sink or swim on the spot as she emerged into adult life. I’ll never forget the helpless feeling of watching her struggle for breath, to keep her head up, and to make a decision while the ground –so to speak – gave way under her feet; when the enormity of this next season pressed in on all sides and tried to hold her under and steal her breath. All the while I sat there, quietly supportive, smiling like I didn’t have a clue about her pain. Confidently knowing, from the lens that only comes with time, that a new pathway will emerge and fill her heart completely even though she can’t see it, feel it, or find it under her today.