There are moments in life when things just come together. When you amaze yourself with your individual skills and accomplishments. When your good just keeps getting better.
For Connor, this summer has been full of positive experiences. It’s been a time of swimming the length of the pool without adult prodding; riding a two-wheeler with one hand; developing a taste for adult foods like tomatoes, tamales and shrimp; and saying good-bye to one of two front teeth… huge milestones for the ripe age of 6. And with those accomplishments comes the unyielding confidence you gain, the sweet taste of personal pride that can only be challenged by you alone.
This experience has been a pleasure to witness. These are the things we parents take pride in; the moments we dream of when we hold our little newborns in those early days …
But with the joys of these big boy strides comes some challenge. Connor’s desire to align himself with a “big kid” has been a welcomed change for us, but I am realizing that there are times when the boundaries of a 6-year-old have to be tightened. And this became evident to me this week.
The first day of our vacation, my husband took to the golf course and Connor and I road our bikes to a nearby water playground. I pulled the two younger kids in our bike trailer, and Connor pedaled the three-mile trek on his two-wheeler, learning the rules of the bike path along the way.
I could see Connor felt pretty good about himself as he swiftly rode along, this being the first time we had cycled a long distance together without him being pulled in a trailer or attached by a tag-along bike.
After parking our bikes and removing our helmets we headed into the facility. In year’s past there was a co-ed entrance, one easy directive to the pool area. But this summer, the entrance was divided, with each gender forced to enter through its respective locker room.
Connor and I have actually been through this a lot this summer, especially on road trips where we stop briefly for a potty break. He sees the sign for a male bathroom and knows that’s where he belongs. So I waver internally, contemplating who might be lurking inside or how filthy the facility might be. I usually wind up having Connor wait for my husband to take the second shift to alleviate myself of any leeriness and germaphobia.
But when I am the only adult, I have to weigh the odds and make a decision on the fly, taking into account all possibilities. And that was the case this day.
Seeing that it was a safe facility, I opted to allow Connor to enter via the Men’s Locker Room. I went with my other two kids into the Women’s room and out to the pool deck. I kept my eye on the exit of the men’s room and then heard Connor’s voice behind me. He had gotten spooked, and unbeknownst to me, trailed me through the women’s room. At the time, I thought nothing of this and didn’t make a big deal of it.
We splashed, swam, snacked and laughed – it was a great day at the pool. Just before we hit the road, Connor said he had to go to the bathroom. I asked him if he wanted to use the Men’s facility and without hesitation, he pried open the heavy door. On his way in, I reminded him that I would be waiting for him right outside the door.
So I waited. And waited, and waited. It was probably no more than five minutes, although it seemed more like 45. My heart started to beat faster and faster as I clocked the time on the pool’s lap timer. I then flagged down a boy about 13 years old and asked him to go search for Connor. He agreed and walked into the locker room.
Again, I waited, and waited. It had to be another five minutes, which seemed like an eternity. At that point I actually began to contemplate who I had sent in after my son … what’s taking them so long? Why hasn’t the boy I sent in resurfaced? What have I done? My heart was racing as my internal temperature began to rise.
In that same instant, I heard a sniffle from behind and a man’s voice. “Excuse me, Ma’am…” It was a lifeguard holding the quivering hand of my red-eyed, flush-faced and sniffling son.
“A lady found him outside, he said he was looking for his mom,” the adolescent lifeguard said to me. He had apparently exited the wrong door.
I grabbed my boy, hugged him firmly and watched as his tears evaporated. I calmly lead Connor to a nearby bench to remind him of our safety plan and how I would never leave him anywhere. I applauded him for seeking help. I then suggested that maybe he wait until Daddy was with us to use the Men’s Locker Room to ensure he knew the route next time. And at that moment, while sitting poolside with my young son, I realized that no matter how many strides he makes, he is still only 6.
As we were leaving, before our long ride home, Connor looked at me and said, “Mom, please don’t tell everyone at the house what happened.” We were staying with a houseful of family members, many of which were his older male cousins. My big boy had returned and for the first time I saw his concern for how his actions might be perceived – another dash of maturity.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “This will be our little secret.” :)