It’s the first day of swimming lessons. In my house, the commotion starts at 6 a.m., when my three older girls wake up ready to go, never mind that lessons don’t start for another three hours.
They can’t contain their excitement and demand to put on their bathing suits immediately. “No,” my 4-year-old yells, holding the bathing suit she picked out mere weeks ago, “I don’t want to wear Care Bears, it’s for babies.” My 3-year-old simply rotates her questions every few seconds. “Can I wear your bathing suit mommy? What’s a bikini?”, and of course, “I want a new Dora bathing suit.”
Eventually, we manage to pick acceptable outfits. My kids wear the suits, complete with goggles on their heads (my three year old actually puts them on her eyes) inside the house, while having breakfast and brushing their teeth, and all the way to the pool.
We get to our lessons and are greeted by a familiar sight: screaming children and parents trying to settle them down. The swimming director is yelling for the kids to line up by the side of the pool and wait for their names to be called.
All of the children look very cute, and we all smile approvingly. Still, we’re apprehensive, aware that the moment these kids touch the water, especially the really young ones, many of them will start crying and screaming that they want to get out.
There is usually the overly worried mom who keeps telling her little one, “I’m right here, Mommy is here, be a good boy Johnny” and doesn’t leave, while the instructor begs her to move out of sight so the child can focus on the lesson.
There is the competitive parent who assertively tells Jane to “go get ‘em tiger, show them what you got”, even though Jane is actually 2 years old, despite her expensive competitive swimsuit and cap with the latest fashionable goggles.
My favorite is the dad who emphatically pushes his daughter to get over her fear of the water and simply refuses to accept that she isn’t ready. This dad reminds me of my own father, and I want to tell him that his daughter’s refusal to enter the pool is not permanent, and doesn’t imply anything about her ability to master swimming or achieve lifelong success. Eventually, most children learn how to swim.
I am living proof of it. As a young girl, I took lessons at the pool near our home in Italy. At age six, I still hated the water and refused to get in. I recall my father incessantly prodding me to get into the pool and stop whining. Though advised against it by the instructor, he periodically threw me into the pool — sink or swim — the old school of instruction. He was so afraid that my fear of swimming meant something about my character that he kept pushing me to stick with it. I grew terrified of swimming, tried to run away from the enclosed pool several times, only to be stopped by the instructor or the other parents.
Finally my dad relented, and admitted he was being too intense. And eventually I got over my fear of the water on my own. Today, I can even enjoy a good swim with my father, though I admit that one part of me wants to throw him in.
Kids master swimming at their own pace, forcing them is counterproductive. Some may fuss, others are late bloomers, others still are fearless. Either way, I hope this summer, amidst the many activities, we can find some time to relax and enjoy our children’s little splashes wherever and however they may be.
Anita Doberman is a freelance writer, mother of five and wife of an Air Force pilot stationed at Hurlburt AFB in Florida. The family expects to be moving to Cannon Air Force Base in the next year. Contact her at: