Tonawanda News

July 7, 2013

KEPPELER: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming ...

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — I try to stay upbeat in this space.

It’s not difficult, to be honest. I love my kids. The vast majority of the time, I love spending time with them. I like relating the stories, the quirks, the funny things they say and the lessons I’ve learned in eight-plus years of parenthood.

And while I have a son with special needs, our lives are not all about that. In fact, many times I forget about it. Jim is Jim, and that’s all there is to it. You roll with the punches, you adapt when necessary and you just plain live.

But every once in a while, something happens when life just smacks you in the face and says, “Stop. Things are different. You need to remember that.”

You learn to recognize those moments, and accept them. But they don’t get any easier.

We started swim lessons this week, in the Keppeler family, the first in which the boys would not have have a parent in the pool with them. My younger son plopped himself into the pool with alacrity, his trademark boundless confidence and no sign of fear. Other than that brief heart-in-the-throat moment when I glanced at the pool and realized that he was out in the middle, effectively swimming all by himself albeit with an instructor nearby all was well.

Jim was not happy. He adores the water. He wanted to swim. Weeks of repeating what day their respective lessons would take place were all for naught, as he dedicated himself to getting in the pool on Sam’s day. I just kept repeating what day he’d be going himself, talking and talking, and retrieved his brother from the water after a very successful first lesson.

And then it was his turn.

He talked of nothing else all day, and clapped his hands as we set off for the pool. The look on his face when he saw the water was beatific.

I sent him off with the other kids, nervous as I hadn’t been with his brother. Jim is different. I know that. But I thought he could do it.

He couldn’t.

Instructions obeyed by everyone else went over his head, either not understood or ignored. He clung to the instructor, not due to fear, but just as he would hold onto his parents if we were in the pool with him. He wouldn’t stay put at the pool’s edge. He didn’t understand. Eventually, it was too much. He had to get out. The instructor apologized and said we could look into the possibility of private lessons.

I’m going to admit to you that it was tough. It was one of the toughest, most frustrating moments of parenthood for me to date, honestly.

In a way, it was like the day I found out he had Down Syndrome all over again. You tell yourself that your child can do anything. You just have to be patient, work harder, do the right thing. 

But sometimes it just doesn’t work. 

Sometimes you just have to face the differences.

The look on his face when he realized we were leaving the pool ... it tore my heart out. “Go swimming?” he asked. “Not right now, bud,” I answered. “Maybe later.”

We’re going to plan B with him. We’ll still get him swim lessons. It will all work out, in the end.

But sometimes — no matter what sort of special needs your child has — you get oh, so weary of Plan B. You just want Plan A to work. You want everything to go smoothly. You want your child to be happy. 

You want everything to be normal, damnit.

I always say that normal is boring. But sometimes boring ... well, you long for it.

In the end, all you can do is accept. Look to Plan B. Or C. Or D. Stay patient, stay stubborn, stay focused on the result, not the bumps in the road. Remind yourself that normal is boring. And your life never is. 

And just keep swimming.

Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at She’s also trying to figure out this Twitter thing, and you can follow her there at @JillKeppeler.