And swimming lessons.
Emma is not a huge fan of the water – or at least, being SUBMERGED in water. Or having water touch her hair. Or, God forbid, going anywhere near her eyes or nose. I cried the first time I gave her a bath because it felt boderline abusive.
The first summer I took her for swim lessons, I tried to just focus on introducing her to the water. I sat in those steamy bleachers at the Y; watching kids younger than her flip-flopping along with the kickboard while she stood on the stairs of the shallow end conducting a 30 minute gear check: Googles: check. Floaties: check. Arsenal of excuses as to why I can’t leave this step: check.
It was the summer Emma turned 4 that I knew I needed to lay down the hammer with teaching her to swim. Taking her and Phoebe to the pool was what I call High Risk Parenting: there was simply not enough of me to go around. The minute I turned my attention to Phoebe, Emma would start shrieking and flailing around in the shallow end – while wearing a swimmy vest.
If the main reason for drowning is due to panic, then this kid could drown in a rain puddle. I knew I had to take action.
I solicited advice from the experts, a.k.a. Moms With Experience. The general consensus was that if your goal is to have your kid be safe in the water, take her to a place that refers to swim lessons as “drowning prevention.” Every single mom that recommended it said, “she will learn how to swim…but you should probably make Phil take her….it’s a little….intense.”
Apparently you can check your swimmy vest at the door because these folks mean business. Thanks to Phil and a lot of
bribery Rita’s Water Ice, Emma completed the program. I greeted her at the door on that last day with a smile and a congratulatory hug, but she was having none of it. She stood in the kitchen in her Tinkerbell bathsuit, her cherry water-ice-stained lips set in a grim line and said, “I am never doing that again. SO DON’T. SIGN. ME. UP.”
I can’t say I blamed her. I despised swimming lessons. I have vivid memories of the cold water, the noxious smell of chlorine, the pain of cramming my thick curly hair into my red rubber swim cap. The reason my cap was red, I realized at about age 6 or 7, was because I was in the remedial swim group. You know, the crowd of misfits in the shallow end wearing nose pinchers and ear plugs.
Swimming lessons – at least when I was a kid- adhered to a rigid class structure: Guppies, Minnows, Fish, Dolphins, Sharks. Don’t sharks eat guppies? It was like Lord of the
Flies Fish. I spent one summer as a polliwog: a larval stage in the life of an amphibian. AN AMPHIBIAN. Polliwogs don’t become sharks, they become FROGS. Talk about setting a kid up for a life of low expectations.
Around 9th grade I decided I wanted to be a shark, dammit. So I joined the swim team at the YMCA, thinking it would make me a shoe-in for eventually making the high school swim team. Unfortunately my dreams of butterflying my way to aquatic greatness were shattered during the first swim meet.
I guess I was a little freaked out by the start gun and overall chaos of a competitive event, because while backstroking I managed to get myself tangled up in the lane divider like a manatee caught in a fishing line.
On the way home, my dad said, “So I saw where you got a little rattled there and lost your bearings. But why the fake asthma attack? You don’t even have asthma.”
“Well Dad, I would rather be known as the girl who hyperventilated than the girl who SUCKS AT LIFE.”
“Hmmm, fair enough.”
But the failure haunted me through the years, as did the shame of moving into adulthood as a perpetual polliwog…mommy stroking my way across the shallow end in a visor and sunglasses. So, at age 31, I signed up for a triathlon -and swimming lessons. Within 8 weeks I scissor kicked my way into the watery world of respectable swimmers. As for the triathlon, I didn’t break any records, but I lived, and that was pretty much my goal.
I recognize that I had to get to this place on my own, and decided to let Emma do the same. After her successful completion of Drowning Prevention, I backed off. Last summer when I tentatively broached the topic of swimming lessons, she said: “No. Way.
You crazy bitch.” I didn’t push it.
On our maiden voyage to the pool a few weeks ago, Emma dug her trusty swim vest out of the box in the garage and strapped it on tight. However, as I slathered on her sunscreen, I observed her surveying the scene – staring wide eyed at the kids her age doing backflips off the diving board. She leaned in close and whispered in my ear: “Let’s lose this thing,” pulling on her vest. “Permanently.”
On the way home she said, “Hey Mom, I think I am ready to try swim lessons this year. That swimmy vest is kinda ridiculous.”
Is peer pressure the motivation, or does the desire to conquer fear come from a deeper place? I put my money on the latter. Once we get over the initial sting of failure, we realize that the decision to sink or swim is ultimately our own. My yoga teacher Baron Baptiste says, “First you must show up and suck before you can show up and shine.”
Or, in this case, swim.