Confession: I was nervous. I got a call last month from a mom with a special request. "I have a child who I'd like you to teach. I'd like him to do private lessons."
"Well ma'am, I'm done teaching for the year. I don't do private lessons and I can't help you," I said. I was not interested heading back out to the pool in the hottest months of the summer. I typically teach in April and May, preparing kids before the swimming season begins and before the Arizona temperatures hit 100-plus degrees on a daily basis.
"You come highly recommended and I'd really like you to teach him. He's a little different. He's got a symptom called dwarfism. His arms are a little bit longer than a normal child and his legs are a little bit shorter. I'm not sure how he will do in the water. Will you teach him?"
In all my years of teaching kids to swim, I had never got a request like this. I wasn't sure if I was up to the task. I didn't know what this boy's limitations were. Could I really get him to swim?
But how can you turn down a call from a pleading mother like that?
And so I said yes.
Four year old Matthew came bounding into my backyard all smiles and happiness. He was a giggler.
I immediately knew I was going to love him. Because of his smallness, I first expected him to be uncomfortable and scared of the water, like many of the two-year-olds who come to me. But Matthew was ready to swim.
With his four-year-old mind and eagerness to learn, he picked up my swimming cues in the first lesson. And he progressed quickly over the next two weeks. I got him to jump, to dive, to float and to swim. I got him to love the water.
But Matthew taught me more than I ever taught him. Matthew taught me to embrace others with differences that may, at first, make one uncomfortable. He taught me that being a little bit different in appearance doesn't make one different in ability or desire to learn. He taught me that his "disability" is only an opportunity to open one's minds and to change the way we think.
My heart is overflowing with love for this little person. He brings joy to me and to others around him. He is the sunshine of my summer. I hope I have many more years to work with Matthew.
He still has a lot to teach me.
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