My son Tommy loves to swim.
In fact, I didn’t even have to put him in the beginning swimmers class. He skipped right to the middle one where the kids were supposed to be able to swim halfway across the pool on their own. He’s just always been a natural in the water, which is fantastic, because you have to understand that because Tommy has Aspergers, he’s awkward while doing other sports.
He tried the t-ball thing and was upset when he couldn’t catch the ball as well as the other kids. And try as he might, it would take him a few times to hit the ball off the stand.
He tried soccer and would up on his butt more times than he cares to remember.
He had an unfortunate incident with a tennis ball.
So when I saw how free he was in the water, my heart lifted and I thought, “This is something he can do.”
Oh sure, he still has awkward moments. For instance, he can’t dive into the pool as easily as the other kids do. No, he winds up doing a belly flop half the time. And when the teacher throws an object in the middle of the pool for the kids to retrieve, Tommy is able to swim to it but he can’t force his body down to the bottom so he’s able to grab it. This frustrates him greatly. I sometimes hear him say to the teacher, “Just let me keep trying, please!”
What he can do is swim and I’ve watched him glide past older kids, who have asked him a few times, “How do you go so fast?” Tommy usually says, “I don’t know. I just do.”
Usually he hasn’t gloated over the fact that he touches the wall first.
Until this week.
I took him to lessons on Monday and he did the backstroke which is his best stroke. He beat the kids and then I heard him go, “You’ve been owned.”
I thought I heard him wrong. Certainly my sweet eight-year-old hadn’t just told other kids that they had been owned.
And where did he hear such a thing? I have never once told him that he’s been owned before.
He did the breaststroke and touched the wall first again. “Owned!” he bellowed and the mother of the beaten boys in Tommy’s class shot me a look like, “You need to teach your kid some manners.”
Then it came time for the butterfly, which is Tommy’s least favorite stroke and he’s still awkward at it but he’s getting better. He edged out the oldest boy and then I heard him say, “Owned again!”
“Tommy!” I yelled and shook my head. He looked confused and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “What’s the deal?”
“It’s not polite to say,” I said.
Tommy frowned. “Say what?”
“Owned. Don’t say that,” I lectured. I could feel the eyes of all the parents in the room. And Tommy’s swim teacher just looked amused over the whole thing. One of the older kids went, “It’s cool, everyone says it,” and I went lamely, “Yes, but it’s not polite.”
Tommy didn’t say the word for the rest of the lesson. He almost slipped once and I could hear his tiny voice go, “Own—I mean, nevermind.” When he came over, dripping wet, he said, “Why can’t I say that? Kids say it all the time in school.”
I handed him his towel. “It’s not having good manners. If you hit the wall first, you say nothing. Would you like being told you were owned?”
Tommy cocked his head to the side. “It wouldn’t bug me.”
“Well, it would bug me,” I said. I didn’t add, “And I’d probably call the winner a smug asshole if he told me that.”
“Fine. I won’t say it anymore,” Tommy agreed. “But it’s not a bad word. Fuck is a bad word, but not owned.”
A mother walked past with her kid and nearly fell into the pool from shock.
“Tommy,” I hissed. “Please.”
Tommy slapped a hand over his mouth. “Oh. Sorry. I did say a bad word then. But owned isn’t a bad word,” he muttered.
“Just…don’t ever say it again when you win. Deal?” I asked, gathering up our things.