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Finding Limits, Pushing Limits

onthestoop2My older son is sure he’s in the wrong class at swimming lessons. The powers that be switched things up, and now he swims in the deep end. His lesson today included quite a bit of yelling, grunting, and maybe a few tears. The only words I could make out from the spectator deck were, “What the?! I’m going backward!”

It’s supposed to be hard, I told him afterward, when he declared that he was done with swimming lessons. That’s how you get better. Being in the deep end means that you are improving. If you keep trying, pretty soon you’ll be swimming across the pool on your own. He seemed dubious, but at least he didn’t stick to his original statement: “I don’t want to come back to swimming lessons.”

Meanwhile, his younger brother is at the point where his desire to be independent sometimes outstrips his abilities, but it doesn’t seem to bother him one bit. “Watch me, watch me, Mom!” as he attempts to run down the stairs with no handrail. “No, I do it myself!” he exclaims when I try to help him pull his pants up (and he pulls them back down so he can get the full experience). He tirelessly pushes chairs around the apartment to get to where he wants to be. He ignores my offers to help. He dissolves in tears when the opportunity to do it himself passes by.

And really, that’s all I wanted to say. One of my kids knows his limits and would like to stay well within them. To approach them is to know pain, suffering, and possibly death. The other scoffs at the notion of limits. He can do anything. Never mind that he can’t run down the street without falling.

Okay, and also that seeing the contrast between their stages in life is comforting and frustrating. I appreciate my older son’s caution. I admire that he knows his limits. I know that he has big dreams, but that he can’t see how to reach them. So I hope that he learns that unless he pushes himself, even simple things will always be hard.

As for his little brother, I love that he is so confident and determined. I am happy to see him attempt new things and not be afraid of the consequences. But I would like it if he realized he didn’t have to take everything on all at once. Push a little here, a little there, and the whole circle will eventually get bigger. It doesn’t have to happen overnight.

And then I realize that I am, as always, finding what I need to know by watching my boys. I should be talking to myself: if I want to progress, I can’t stay sitting in the shallow end. But if I want to succeed, I can’t go straight to the high dive, either.

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