Sam is learning to swim, and he’s almost there. Well, I say almost, when really, the kid’s there. He’s there. The teacher can let go of him for several strokes and he’ll stay afloat. He doesn’t shy away in terror any longer from her classes, like he did just a few weeks ago, and he even gets excited about jumping in the water and chasing down the toys she throws for him. His skills have increased dramatically since he started, and his attitude has become correspondingly positive. He differs from me there. Both my kids do. My attitude is hard to modify, and I struggle to give something I dislike a “second chance”, even if I continue doing it. But Caroline and Sam have a genuinely happy outlook on life, and they are able to change their perspective about an activity if given either enough experience with it or sufficient incentive to do so.
To wit: the swimming. After one bad experience at age three or four, I refused to learn to swim until I was nearly seven. I loved the water, but clung to my mother in terror at every trip beyond the pool stairs. My children, in contrast, have weathered several negative water experiences each and have always come back to try again.
I’ve had both kids in the water from a very young age, which meant Caroline’s first experiences at the pool were winter scenes. Now, my Mom tried me at a pool in winter when I was an infant and quickly realized it was too cold for both of us. I wasn’t nearly so smart. I dragged Caroline to little baby-parent classes for most of the time we lived in Lexington, even though she squalled for most activities. I even tripped over my own feet while carrying her once, and the instructor had to fish her up as I fell, failing badly to to keep her head above water. She loved her baths but felt overwhelmed by the pool. The water, especially if cold, set off all of her sensory alarms, and transitioning into the freezing air afterwards caused regular screaming meltdowns at the YMCA.
I thought she’d never learn to swim but forced her to take lessons when we moved down to Alabama, largely because I needed to know her limits. She went through some five months of instruction in the 3-5 year old class, gradually becoming accustomed to the teachers and the water. The Y has some awesome swim instructors, and the pair teaching the preschoolers developed a sense for when to push Caroline and when to comfort her, and to my utter amazement, she learned to swim.
At which point she refused to get in the water. She was terrified. But by this point, I was not the one forcing her to go. It was Caroline. She would demand to be taken to class and then stand sobbing beside the pool until one of her teachers coaxed her in. Slowly, she gained proficiency, and she’s been swimming alone for the last two years and loving it. She took herself down a fifty foot slide that I wouldn’t tackle last year, and she can jump off the diving board over and over without fear. In a situation where I know I would have just developed a hatred of whatever I was being required to do, Caroline has instead adapted, and she’s flourishing.
Sam has been through several stages of coping as he learned to swim as well. He loved the water when we took the parent-and-child courses that followed Caroline’s 3-5 year old class, and he even enjoyed dunking, which his sister loathed. Indeed, I hated dunking, too, as a kid, and I credit it entirely with my early refusal to learn how to swim. My parents took me to one parent-and-child lesson at the pool then located at Chatfield College. For some reason, Dad was the one in the water with me. Or anyway, he was the one holding me, as I think Mom was right there, too. Even though I begged him not to do it, Dad dunked me on cue. I kicked him ferociously and got water up my nose, then screamed like a banshee until they took me home. Sam, in contrast, shrieked for more dunkings when the lessons were over.
But as he got bigger, he began to realize that we grown-ups expected him to start swimming alone. And the fact that this date was still miles in his future had no meaning for him. He went into swimming-shutdown. He screamed through classes just like his sister used to, and he clung to me like the limpet I’m sure I was at his age. He did not want to go under, and he resisted all efforts by the instructor to coax him into chasing toys. Although he would float around the pool in a green swim ring, he would not get in without the thing, and he refused to even be weaned down to a pool noodle for class.
This year, though, things have changed again for him. For one thing, he started enjoying showers, which reminded him he liked getting his head wet. So he started practicing his “swimming” in the baby pool about a month before his classes started this spring. The first day of his 3-5 year old class, it looked like he might backslide, but at the last second, he instead took off, and he’s been scooping and kicking his way forward ever since. Last Thursday, to everyone’s complete astonishment, Miss Crystal let go of him in the middle of the lesson, and he plowed forward for several strokes before he started to sink. She caught him up again before any sense of alarm could interfere with his enjoyment, and when it happened again, he suddenly realized he was doing it all by himself. His joy was palpable.
Every day, both my children move a little closer to independence, another skill nearer to flying out of my nest. They both have many things yet to learn, but from what I’ve seen, they’ll both develop just swimmingly.