I probably shouldn’t have gone back to swim practice as soon as I did, but I knew that Mondays were light on staff and heavy on kids. Besides, I thought it would do me good.
But one little swimmer kept telling me that I was doing it wrong and it bothered me.
“No, no, no,” he said, looking up at me, cheeks glinting with water, forehead squished down by his swim cap. It gave him a grouchy old man scowl.
“You doing it all wrong,” he said. “You don’t know how to do it.” And he pressed his lips into a pout.
“Julian, I’m giving other kids a turn to go first,” I tried to explain.
“I go first,” he insisted. “You’re doing it wrong.”
It would serve no purpose to argue with a 6-year-old, so I kept going with the set, but I had lost my smile.
Maybe I never had it that day.
I felt adrift, unmoored, with no sense of time or joy. I was moving in a heavy fog since my mother’s death.
As I reflected on that swim practice, on the frustration I had felt toward Julian, and later on the irritation I felt toward my passel of 8- and 9-year-old boys, I thought, this is how old people get a reputation for being grumpy.
Those kids didn’t know that I had just lost my mother.
Nor should they have to make allowances for me.
They were just kids being kids.
When my mother first started showing signs of Alzheimer’s, she had times of grumpiness. Things rattled her nerves — like the time that Jacob jangled the car keys on a glass tabletop. She blew up at him, and I watched him cower away, hands trembling, eyes wide. He was simply behaving like a little boy, fiddling around with whatever was at hand. But she was lost in a fog and couldn’t find her way out; that racket only added to her confusion..
I pulled Jacob aside later and told him that he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Another time he noticed the start of a Fucillo commercial and jumped up to turn off the television. Billy Fucillo has transformed “huge” into a two-syllable word: “huuuuuu-jah.” Our family finds it annoying. We turn him off. But this time, the commercial was right before Final Jeopardy. My mother was watching and she exploded. At Jacob.
“He’s a bad one,” she used to tell me when we played the guess-who-this-is game with photographs.
My mother’s Alzheimer brain had marked Jacob with a black spot.
I saw the way Julian looked at me at the swim meet yesterday. Big eyed. Wondering about this coach who didn’t clearly know what she was doing and wouldn’t listen to reason.
I thought about the way I would try to explain things to my children after unpleasant episodes with my mother. I wanted them to know that she wasn’t always like they saw her.
But Julian — will someone offer him explanation? Will his mother snuggle with him and say, “Maybe Coach has something hard going on in her life right now.”
And maybe that’s just it — maybe we all need Someone to settle our hackles after rude or disagreeable encounters.
Somehow we need to learn to hear God’s compassionate whisper in our ears — Maybe this person is going through something hard right now. Maybe tenderness and leniency are more in order. Peace, dear one. Be still.