I had signed my child up for swimming lessons before, several years ago. The first day, he loved it, splashing around in the water, making new friends.
The second day, he was told he would put his face under water and he promptly told me he would not go back.
“There’s also bottoms under there,” he explained, telling me how he was not sure if some of those “younger children” had on proper pool pants in case of accidents. He was four.
This summer was to be the summer he learned how to swim.
He had declared, on previous occasions, he knew how to swim.
He went to the pool, full of all kinds of nook and cranny dirt that normally made him cringe and sent me into an OCD fit, with his father under the intention of learning how to swim.
“I know how to swim!” he announced when he returned home.
I looked questionably at his father, who shook his head.
“He rode on my back and kicked me in the kidneys for 45 minutes. He would not get off my back and held on to what hair I have left. He doesn’t know how to swim.”
We worried, or I did, because that’s what I do. But I didn’t let him go anywhere near a pool of any kind.
“He doesn’t know how to swim,” I would tell his teacher if there was a field trip involving anything near a body of water. “He will tell you he does, but he doesn’t.”
I know that grossly cramped his style, but safety overrides any perception of cool.
And even though he didn’t have a fear of the water, I didn’t want him to get in a situation that was not safe.
I was 19 before I learned how to swim, but that had not stopped me from getting in the water with friends. I remember one particular incident where I was in the middle of Lake Sinclair with some friends when a storm came up suddenly.
Of course it was suddenly, it was a weekend in Georgia; minutes earlier, it had been clear. But there we were, a bunch of teenage girls in the middle of a lake with lightning cracking nearby.
My friends started swimming to the dock and I was floating in my life jacket, wondering what had just shimmied between my feet. I didn’t look down.
“Help!” I urged the friend closest to me.
“What’s wrong?” she asked over her shoulder as she was already facing land.
“I can’t swim!”
She turned around and looked at me. “You can’t swim? Why didn’t you say something before now?”
“I didn’t want to miss out on the fun,” was the truth. I had sat on the dock before, or on the beach or whatever was dry. And here I was, maybe putting me and my friend in danger. As in, we could die danger based on the way the storm was moving.
She flipped over and told me to hold her foot and she somehow got us safely back. I don’t know if it was a backstroke, a back float or what it was and usually, I would be mortified to hold onto to someone’s toe, but I was extremely grateful for her big toe that day, even if she did need a pedicure.
I didn’t want my own child to be in that kind of situation.
So there he was, at another swimming lesson.
He had been worried he would be the oldest in the group. I told him it didn’t matter how old someone was, as long as they were learning.
He wasn’t the oldest though as there was another boy his age in the class, much to his relief, and he spent the first lesson being social.
The second day, he couldn’t get his legs up in the water. At least I knew where all the food he eats was being stored.
“Are you scared about taking your feet off the floor?” I asked him on the way home.
He nodded. “Mama, I did once and I felt weird…”
“Like you weren’t in control?” I asked. He nodded. “Yeah, and I didn’t like that.”
I completely knew how he felt. I hadn’t been in control in over nine years, so that was familiar territory.
By the third day, he was frustrated. With himself, with the water – with everything. He got out of the pool, gave me a look of disdain and headed for the car.
The fourth day, he got in the pool with determination. I watched him, wishing I could tell him what to do but I didn’t even know. I just knew he wanted to learn how to swim and this was one thing I couldn’t guide him on.
He took a board and decided to practice swimming across the shallow end on his own. After several minutes, the teacher asked him if he wanted a break. “No, ma’am!” he called. “I love it!” He was struggling so hard – how could he love it?
She watched him, all arms splashing and beating the water, for a few moments then stopped him.
“Like this,” she said, showing him how to do his arms, smoothly, scooping the water. “Don’t fight it – relax, trust and just go with the flow.”
He nodded, then took off across the pool again, this time, sending less splash and noise in his wake.
“I did it! I did it!” he screamed to me from the pool. I gave him a double thumbs up as he went off again, his arms scooping water as he went.
I smiled, watching him glide through the water, albeit still not 100 percent smoothly but far better than I had ever done. Endlessly, back and forth he went until time to go. He was learning.
And growing up.
Life, much like swimming, goes so much better when we relax, trust and just go with the flow.