Yesterday was my son's swimming carnival. He is in Year 6, and he is short. The shortest in his year by a long shot. He is strong, and wiry, and not a bad swimmer, but when you're competing against kids a head-and-a-half taller than you, your chances of ending up with a winner's ribbon are slim, to say the least.
My son had been practising every day for the past couple of weeks, but I didn't think he stood much of a chance. Last year he came last in each of the three events he entered, and actually failed to finish one race. It was well within his capability, but he went out so hard, trying to match the taller kids stroke for stroke, that he exhausted himself and had to leave the pool.
This year, his goals were realistic. "I don't expect to win, Mum," he told me, "but I really want to make it to the end."
Day after day he'd swim his laps, and then, every time he climbed out of the pool, he'd ask the same question. "What if I don't finish again, Mum?"
I tried to reassure him. "It doesn't matter if you don't finish," I'd say. "You just have to do your best." I was lying, of course. I knew it did matter if he didn't finish. Not to me, but certainly to him.
"I do have to finish," he'd tell me. And he'd roll his eyes. "You're no help." Which, you know, I probably wasn't.
I arrived at the carnival just in time. My son was in his swimsuit at the end of the pool, standing behind two other boys, waiting for his turn to climb onto the starting block. The gun fired and a group of boys swam the100 metre freestyle. And then anothe group raced. And another.
And then it was his turn.
My son stepped onto the block, and the gun fired. And off he went. By halfway through the first lap, he was well behind the others - not surprising, seeing as he had to swim three strokes for each of their two. After the turn, he was almost a full length behind. The next group of boys were up on their blocks and waiting to jump by the time he made it to the finish.
But he made it to the end.
I was SO proud. My son returned to his seat, beaming. "Well, I earned one point for my house," he said. "And every point counts".
"It does indeed," I told him. We celebrated with some snacks. And within an hour, the 100 metre breaststroke was on.
Again, my son climbed on the block. Again, the gun fired. And again, he was behind by the time they'd reached the halfway point.
But then I noticed: he was neck and neck with one of the other boys. They were tying for last place - but hey, that was a massive improvement on coming last by a mile. My heart started to pound. I leaned forward in my seat. It was so exciting!
The others all finished. It was just my son and the other boy left. Both swam, hard, towards the blocks. I could barely sit still. "Go!" I thought. "GO!" Imagine if he came second last? It would be amazing!!!
He didn't, of course. The other kid beat him by a length. But he did brilliantly well. I swelled with pride and had tears in my eyes as he made his way back to me.
And as he settled into his seat, an announcement came over the loudspeaker. "And some news.... The Blue House has moved into first place! By one point!"
My son cheered. "That's us!" he said, munching happily on some chips.
"Yep," I told him. "Your swim pushed your house in front!" He nodded and returned to his food, but he looked quietly satisfied. He may have come last, but he helped his team to victory.
It was one of the proudest moments of my life.