Roberta Dixon Gates, “Bobbie in the Mirror,” Friend, Feb 1985, 48
Bobbie sat on the edge of the pool, looking at the warm, clear water. She remembered that last summer she had run into the waves at the beach. And at the neighborhood pool, she had stood in the shallow end and stuck her head underwater. She had even opened her eyes to count her fingers. This year she had learned to float around in the deep end of the indoor pool.
But today Bobbie just sat on the edge of the big indoor pool and worried. She watched some of her friends kicking up and down the pool lanes, holding onto blue and red kickboards. Bobbie had already done that. In fact, last week Bobbie had kicked all the way down and all the way back in the pool. She secretly thought that she might be the best kicker in her class.
Others in her class were in the shallow end, practicing their overhand strokes. Bobbie could lean over and do a really good crawl stroke. Her swimming instructor had told her how nicely her arms curved when she pulled them through the water.
Another small group was working on breathing. They blew into the water, then breathed in, then blew, then breathed in. Bobbie knew that she could do the breathing. She had worked on that in the bathtub as well as at the beach and in the pool.
Bobbie looked at the depth marker—10 FEET. She looked up at the sign over the door—THIS POOL IS 75 FEET LONG.
I can breathe correctly, and I can kick a good, strong kick, she thought. And my arms don’t get tired.
Just then the buzzer sounded for class to be over. Slowly Bobbie got up from the steps. If only I had a little more time … She really hated to get dressed and go home. Mother wouldn’t say anything. She would smile at Bobbie, sort of raise her eyebrows expectantly, and have an encouraging twinkle in her eyes. But Bobbie would have no beginner’s swimming card to show.
All that week Bobbie walked to the pool, she put on her swimsuit, grabbed a kickboard, and kicked up and down the pool. She practiced her arm strokes until she was quite sure no one could do them any better. She blew bubbles and breathed in, and she even sat on the bottom of the pool in the shallow end.
But each time Bobbie went over to the deep end of the pool and thought about jumping into ten feet of water, she knew she just couldn’t do it.
Every once in a while, Bobbie saw her swimming instructor smiling at her. When Bobbie felt that she was ready to put her arm strokes and her kicking and her breathing all together and swim the length of the pool, her instructor would be right there beside her. So Bobbie wasn’t afraid of sinking.
Bobbie started thinking about just why she couldn’t jump into the deep water and swim to the other end. I must be afraid of something. I wonder what it is. It isn’t the water. It isn’t my teacher, and it certainly isn’t Mother. It’s not my friends, either. Some of them still haven’t learned how to breathe or kick or do the arm strokes. Bobbie thought about all the people who would love her whether she learned to swim this summer or not.
Suddenly Bobbie realized that there was one person she had not thought of—herself. I’m afraid because I don’t want to fail. As long as I don’t try to swim, I can tell myself that when I do try it, I’ll be the best one in the class. But once I jump into that water, maybe I’ll find out that I can’t do it.
Bobbie looked up at the clock. Class wouldn’t be over for another half hour. She left the pool area, went into the dressing room, faced herself in the mirror, and said, “Bobbie, just go do it. Even if you don’t make it today, you can try again tomorrow. The important thing is to try. You’ve got to believe in yourself.”
The mirror Bobbie looked back at the real Bobbie. They smiled at each other.
Walking quickly back into the pool area, Bobbie stood by her swimming teacher and said, “I’m ready to try.”
[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch^ Back to top