She tosses her diving sticks where ever there is a space wide enough for them to make their slow sink to the bottom. Whether or not her body will fit in the space when she retrieves them is of no concern. People always make way when you just wedge yourself in, in her experience.
Dolphin diving in the area just up to her chest, she ignores all the kids jumping off the side into the arms of moms, swim teachers, babysitters, grandpas, big sisters. She mastered the jump long ago and now works on her elegant, smiling arc of a dive from standing to underwater. She doesn't appear to take any deeper of a breath before heading down, but she can hold it as long as it takes to pick up all she scatters at the bottom. It's alarming when she lingers, but if there is one thing she's taught me (and there is way more than one), it's that she knows what she's doing in the water.
As she submerges her smiling face and sinks top first, her feet flail out to either side in one efficient double kick, sinking her lower half just as she picks up her treasures and arches her back to come out face first. As she rises, you can see her eyes have been wide open the entire time, her mouth has been shaped into a toothy grin of victory since grabbing the first dive object. Smiles without fail, even when she's on her hundredth dive of a single afternoon.
She loves her power in the water and does not concern herself with others, least of all grown ups, while in her element. This focus will serve her well at swim meets one day.
Next to her, a dad and a pair of grandparents form a wall of fanhood as they coax the 3 year old girl they clearly adore to jump into the water. Shoulder to shoulder, they each have their own messages of encouragement, delivered on top of each other's, as though in competition to see whose words will be the catalyst, whose arms she'll end up in. The girl, as any smart 3 year old would, delays her feat as long as she can to hold this rapt attention hostage for the duration. When she finally bends her knees to jump, Addie enters the field between her and her fan club. Despite others having passed through, at Addie's entrance, the girl lets out a blood curdling scream as though she'd spotted a scorpion or the devil incarnate. Though they see the source of her unfounded terror, the girl's primary teachers - her parent and grandparents, those she looks to to shape her own world view - do nothing, say nothing. They simply stop their chants and join her for a prolonged stare at Addie.
When I realize they will take no steps to explain to the child that this is a shared pool, with shared space and that Addie means no harm swimming by, I calmly suggest to Addie that she look up to see that someone wanted to jump there. Addie's response, as I expected it to be, is to keep her course and swim to the other side of the adoring wall of grown ups at her own pace. And that is fine with me. The princess is free to calm down and jump, now that the embodiment of danger has moved on.
Before long, Addie passes back behind the human wall to her starting point and tosses the dive sticks near the girl and her groupies again. As she dives down, Addie's leg kicks just inches from the girl, spraying a face-full of water on her. I prepare for the screech. To my surprise, the little girl looks properly shocked, but doesn't seem to have plans to complain about it. She had just been underwater and kids her size were all shoulder deep, bound to get splashed. It was not destined to be a big deal, she was apparently over the horror that is my daughter.
But grandma takes a different tack and gasps with exaggerated flourish as though Addie had chosen the girl from the crowd and delivered an uppercut to her little fragile jaw. Grandma scoops princess up and wraps her in protective arms as she lays an accusing glare on my just-out-from-under smiling girl. Grandma hauls out her best Jersey accented baby talk. "Oh, I know, baby, I know. You'll be alright, honeygirl, grandma has you. People come by and just splash you in the face and don't even say anything. I know, I know, it'll be ok. You won't have to swim by her anymore."
The words themselves inspire the delivery of a diatribe from me, but the out of town accent slows my counter-attack and allows me to cut her some slack. She must not see princess very often. This is a special trip for her and she's trying to get a lot of grandma'ing in while she can, making up for lost time, perhaps trying to offload some long distance guilt she feels. Maybe she never saw princess as a baby and is not sure how to jump right to relating to a pre-schooler granddaughter. The dad actually had a brief comment for grandma to stop making such a big deal out of it, that she recovers quickly. Grandma doesn't seem to hear or want to hear this.
Whether or not they realize that the evil splashing girl's mother is standing right there signing to her daughter, I do not know. But I bite my tongue and move on. I like to save my "teaching" for the youngest detractors Addie encounters. More fruitful to plant in newer, moister soil.
At the drama the grandmother is whipping up, Addie circles back, not surprisingly. She tends to gravitate towards extreme reactions - very curious about guffawing, crying, anger, grown ups over-playing up the victim card... Now that she knows this group is capable of extremes, she intends to linger.
Princess is about to jump in again as she spots Addie a few feet behind her fan wall. Again, a scream as though a stabbing had occurred. Shoot, I thought the kid was over Addie, but I guess grandma took her back a few steps with her ridiculous splash reaction. All three adults flick their heads in Addie's direction and make a simultaneous comment to this effect: "Oh, there she is again, we better move."
And thus, they cheated their princess out of a chance to understand how the world works, how people are different, how we should try to see things from other perspectives, how valuable forgiveness is, how useless avoidance is, how curiosity can stomp out fear. Princess's grown ups treated a non-verbal child with a disability the way one might treat a remorseless, repeat offender bully. They demonstrated that Addie was not worth talking directly to, that Princess was right to think she was scary, that my diving daughter should be separated from other, more delightful children.
As the oblivious family wades away to a safer, more Addie-less spot, grandma pats Princess's head and once again soothes her with "I know, I know." But east coast grandma doesn't know. She doesn't know a damn thing about the disservice she just did Princess. I don't even form a thought around the disrespect for Addie because Addie had that family written off the minute they accepted the girl's irrational terror of only one kid in that pool.
Addie could not have cared less, but no sooner had she been left to enjoy her space, than I hear a little voice calling her name. Addie plays in the same spot, this time spinning and spinning. The voice comes closer and addresses her, "Addie, man, you really can spin fast. I didn't ever know you liked to do it so much." I had to look closer - kids look different in swim suits and wet hair. Ah, a boy from school. They'd never been in class together despite being in the same grade, but we've seen him out and about before. He always comes to chat with Addie who he says he knows mostly from playing with her at lunch recess. He finally introduced himself to me earlier in the summer at the pool.
Chaz goofs around with Addie and throws a question my way every few minutes "What teacher did she get?" "She is a really good swimmer, right?" Questions that he wanted my take on or that he wasn't sure he'd understand her signed answers. All other questions were directed towards her, most of which she ignored. That didn't bug him a bit.
Somehow he gets her to throw the dive sticks for him to retrieve - that's a new one on me. Never witnessed her share her pool stuff before. Then he throws them for her. On her way down, she's a bit too close and actually clocks him in the face with her foot. When she comes up he laughs and grabs her foot and tells her "Hey, you hit me with this smelly thing." Which got a sharp short belly laugh.
As I was marveling at what a natural way Chaz had with Addie, particularly never having been in class with her, never hearing the "official" messages of inclusion and acceptance - he abruptly left. My shoulders slumped. This is just the kind of kid that more than makes up for that last encounter, that helps Addie truly feel a part of things and makes her want to contribute. The kind of kid who gives me hope. And now he swam away. I wonder what...
Chaz zooms by me in the water, dragging a smaller giggling version of himself by the arm.
"Addie, Addie, I had to go get my little brother! He's going to our school this time! Grant, this is Addie. She is my friend from recess. Addie, Grant is going to be in K4 and I think he'll like it..."
And Grant, being raised in the same household that clearly embraces differences, connections between humans and seeing the value of all people, joined them in their spinning game without a moment's hesitation.
Grant is probably 4 years old. I would estimate grandma to be in her mid 60's.
The cluelessness of Jersey grandma's outlook is being honed and perfected down the generations. Princess is being taught not to see my daughter at all, to fear all that is different from her. And she will find herself ill-equipped for a diverse planet as a result.
And then in other families, the choice be open and to move through with love, curiosity and a welcoming spirit is as reflexive as the smile on Addie's face underwater.
Closed-minded grandma and her legacy: zero, Local boys: >1, final tally after the ripples they create with their natural, genuine, open interest in all kinds of humans can be quantified and qualified countless generations from now, if ever.
Local boys WIN!