For the first time this summer Sebastian and Tallula had swim class without me. I watched from behind the glass upstairs, with other parents and caregivers. They took turns looking up for me to make sure that, yes, I was there. I chatted with another mom whose son was in Sebastian’s preschool and then later a mom who used to be one of the therapists on his communication team. I listened to moms of kids who likely lived nearby in the neighbourhood and only came to Bloorview for the Red Cross Swim Lessons. They talked about the level of their child’s swim abilities mostly and other things that didn’t matter to me. I usually tuned them out.
I watched Tallula gain confidence in putting her face under water and blowing bubbles. Floating on her own and kicking independently wearing a life vest. I watched Sebastian kick across the pool, his head leaning back on his swim teacher. Sometimes he’d wear the swim ring and float on his tummy with help. His body free in the water. Moving effortlessly and making progress. I’d watch the kids swim towards each other and smile, enjoying being in the pool together.
Tallula was sad that it was their last day to swim together. Sebastian has a pool at his new school where he will swim twice a week and Tallula will hopefully continue with lessons here once a week. Every night her favourite part of her day is when she went swimming. Even when she didn’t.
I remember the first time Sebastian purposefully kicked his legs in the water. It was in Thompson Lake in Howell, Michigan. We were also doing HBOT sessions that summer. He was about 15 months old. It was amazing. And now he can kick all the way to the other side of the pool with someone guiding him. I remember when Tallula refused to put her face in the water and now she was blowing bubbles for 3 seconds!
Sitting up there watching my kids swim together, I was full of proud moments. Moments of pure happiness and not only did I enjoy watching them but also seeing their independence. Which is a huge thing for Sebastian who depends so much on others (and me!) so much of the time. I loved seeing Tallula’s confidence build and the risks she took were so much greater than when I did swim class with her.
I was having a lovely conversation with one of Seb’s former therapists as we watched our kids swim and talked about end of summer plans. Then I overheard the two women next to me, ‘It’s so nice they let that disabled boy swim [here]. Look how happy he is in the water.’ I was silent and she said, ‘That was weird. I’m sorry.’ I said, ‘Yeah, considering where we are.’ We were both shocked. The women heard us though and started talking about when the hospital was built. As though to tell us they understood where we were.
I wanted to say something back. But all I could hear was that woman saying ‘that disabled boy.’ THAT DISABLED BOY. Not, that cute boy in blue having the time of his life kicking and swimming towards his sister. Then laughing together. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing in THIS PLACE. This place which is practically our second home because we spend so much time here and we know so many families and people within these walls. This place that is OUR COMMUNITY. This pool that is warmer than any other pool in the city because it’s FOR kids with disabilities. Not so YOU can bring your kids to learn how to swim. That’s a bonus for you. You do not belong here. That’s what I wanted to say. You do not belong here with my ‘disabled boy’.
That disabled boy. My heart broke a little. I was thankful there weren’t any other kids around to hear these women. These so very ignorant women. And you know I got stuck in the elevator with one of them and her daughter. And I had to bite my tongue so hard I thought it would bleed. Because of the kids. And you know she didn’t even know what was on the second floor of the ‘hospital’. I opened my mouth to tell her about the aquarium and the big game on the wall you can manoeuvre with your body or your wheelchair and I stopped. Because if I started there’d be no going back.
But next time I will.