The summer has gone by fast and the house is on a count down of days til school begins. It always makes me a little bit anxious as the pool days are slipping away and I dread the winter. We have made arrangements for Larkin to continue with her swim lessons at the YMCA on Church Street once school starts and it’s too cold to swim outside. School will wear her out but swimming also gives her so much freedom and it breaks my heart that we don’t have an option … for now. (gotta build that new Y!)
Friday it was 99 degrees and the heat index was around 110 but we went to the pool anyway, being in the water made it bearable and it wasn’t terribly crowded which is nice. It sounds like a wonderful way to spend your day hanging out in the water but when you do it every. single. day. and your skin has tanned to its darkest level and shows signs of water dryness, well it becomes more like a chore at times. Larkin has made such huge gains in many ways this summer so it’s a chore that is made easier by joy and love.
This week gave us two different opportunities to cheer. One took me a little while to realize and I think you will smile with me when you finish this.
First, Larkin was swimming and goofing off on the stairs into the pool, which is her favorite thing to do. She doesn’t play with toys in the water, as the water is her only need. Other kids have tried to play with her in the baby pool by giving her items but she looks at it for a second, tosses it away, and moves on. Meaningful play for her is just being free to move in the water. Friday there was a yellow volleyball in the water near the steps and Larkin reached for it.
Balls in the water just keep on moving if you don’t grasp them with both hands so the ball kept bobbing and moving just beyond L’s grasp. This time was different in that Larkin didn’t give up and turn away. She swam after the ball, swimming under water, coming up for air, reaching for the ball, back under, air, reach, swim, air, reach, swim, and this continued for 25 yards. She went across the entire width of the pool trying to get the ball!
The fact that she was swimming was beyond amazing but also that she would do so by taking an interest in a toy quite literally left me speechless and cheering!!!
Second, I have noticed that Larkin will play on the steps in the pool and make sounds but also will sign all of the signs that she knows. She signs eat, more, please, all done, and up, off and on even though she isn’t asking for any of those things. I have been watching her do this over the past few months and was a little worried that she was confusing her signs and we would lose the meaning. It has been so wonderful to be able to communicate with her and it has made a world of difference for us so I want to ensure we don’t lose that.
Often times I am the only adult in the pool surrounded by a mass of little kids. I was listening to one little girl ask me a million questions. She asked WHY about EVERYTHING as that is what kids do and I patiently answered her for a while and then I began to answer her questions with questions. I realized she was just talking to talk and she wasn’t really listening to my answers so I engaged her in a different way that created conversation. It does give me a mixed bag of emotions as I watch little girls Larkin’s age playing and talking to me and I would truly give anything to get a smidgen of that out of Larkin.
I do get it in bits & pieces so I am sated but there are seconds in time when I catch my breath with a hitch, a lump in my throat, a wind of grief washing over me as I realize what typical 4 looks like. A wind that passes just as quickly when I catch sight of my girl and fall back into our journey and stay in the moment of joy.
Meanwhile there was another little girl sitting on the edge and I asked her why she wasn’t getting in and she explained that she likes to swim from the steps to the other ladder but she couldn’t because Larkin was in the way. Her little voice so sweet and kind as she told me why she was waiting.
Quick background on this particular little girl, her first name is Murphy and that is Larkin’s middle name. She is a charming sprite who has told me stories of her favorite movies, where she bought her swim suit, asks me to get toys for her when she can’t reach them, and is a bright spot in my days at the pool. Murphy, who is always patient with my girl, remembers the conversation I had with her about Larkin’s brain owie and why Larkin doesn’t talk or play the way other little girls do. I often have this conversation with each new child that plays near Larkin so they understand if she grabs them or doesn’t play with them when they try to engage her. Kids are so understanding when you explain things to them and I’ve only had trouble with one little boy but he has his own issues so I am more watchful when she is around him. The girls though …. wow they are her little mother’s and they hover around Larkin.
Anyway, I suggested to Murphy that she tell me when she was ready to be on the steps and I would move Larkin out of the way and she jumped up delighted at my solution! I watched as Murphy talked to herself as she swam from the steps to the ladder. Telling secret stories and playing by herself.
Imaginary play while she swam from one to the other.
Whole conversations in her own little world.
It was a shattering of light for me. Tears welled up only this time instead of the wind of grief it was the absolute smack to my forehead
HOW COULD I NOT SEE IT!
Larkin, using her signs, was holding conversations in her own way.
Imaginary play while she swam ~ whole conversations in her own little world. Telling secrets and playing by herself suddenly became the most beautiful thing to me!
Murphy and Larkin are more alike then they are different but I was too busy worrying about Larkin losing an ability that I failed to see the beauty of her own language and play.
I am speechless about this because I can’t find my voice to discuss it without crying.
So I type it. Silent tears running down my cheeks because I am so in love with a sweet little girl who teaches me every day how spectacularly beautiful this life is and Murphy who taught me that Larkin will always have a friend.
Guess you know me, Amy—I was smiling, laughing, crying, and picturing all of this. Years ago a family described their daughter as “prattling” –when she would just go through her signs, like many kids are able to vocalize their sounds, syllables, and real and made up words.
As you (and Larkin) have discovered, water is an incredible medium and can be very “freeing” for people affected by various motor difficulties. In Larkin’s case, it could be that water play and swimming are doing a number of things: she is able to move much more easily in water—movement helps elicit “speech” in many kids—whether it is vocal speech or signed “speech.”
Being in the water probably reduces some of the “demands” she has she has to deal with on land such as gravity, balance, sequencing lots of body movements, etc. This frees up some “energy” for other tasks—like practicing signs, thinking about things that she has or will experience, etc.
I have loved, loved, loved seeing Larkin’s swimming progress this summer and shared her successes with many—I can’t wait until Larkin’s Place becomes a reality for Larkin—and so many others.
Thanks for sharing this story–it’s GREAT!
This was beautiful Amy, I loved it.
Smiling through tears of joy! Thanks, Aim!
Your post made me weep. How beautiful. Thank you.