Tuesday, August 16, 2005

This summer I went swimming

This summer I went swimming
This summer I might have drowned

But I held my breath, and I kicked my feet
And I moved my arms around
Moved my arms around

-Loudon Wainwright

Back when Rennaisance Woman was eight and then nine months pregnant, we used to go to an outdoor pool in the South End of Seattle. We'd sit on the deck and admire all the little babies splashing in the water. One in particular I remember, a little blonde charmer about a year old, laughing merrily and splashing around in her little baby inner tube.

"Our baby will be doing that next summer," we murmured fondly to each other.

Well, no, our baby wasn't doing that the following summer. Our baby hated the pool: she shivered in the cold water, she clung to our necks with a death grip, she screamed when we tried to dip her in. In short, our baby had her own ideas about what was fun. And swimming was NOT FUN.

In spite of her blog name, Mermaid Girl has never been one of those fish-children who's as comfortable in the water as on land. Oh, she loves the water, the water is fine, she'll beg and plead to go to family swim and will pull out one of her many bathing suits at the slightest excuse. But she is exceedingly... cautious. For a long time, she wouldn't enter even the very shallowest of wading pools without her inflatable inner tube clutched around her middle. She refuses to go down the tiny slide in the three-foot warm pool unless a grownup is holding her hand the entire time.

She's taken swimming lessons at the outdoor pool for three summers now, and for three summers she's been in the beginner's group, cautiously blowing little bubbles on the surface of the water, gingerly allowing the teacher to hold her as she practices making ice-cream scoops with her hands. She won't even go into the crowded pool at camp the last few weeks--after we gushed to her about how wonderful it would be that she could go swimming every day--because there's too much splashing: "People are disobeying the law, and I don't like it," she says primly.

It turns out that I am no better than the competitive parents I scoffed at back when I was a preschool teacher. I want my kid to excell! I want her to be a star! In everything! Who knew? But at least I have the decency to keep my indecent vicarious ambitions to myself. RW and I keep staunchly agreeing to each other that MG will swim when she's ready, that she enjoys the water and that's what's important, that she can stay in Group A as long as she needs to. Meanwhile, her friends are launching themselves out like dolphins, doing the crawl and the backstroke and grabbing plastic rings from the bottom of the pool.

At the end of the last round of classes I asked MG--striving for a nonchalant effect that probably didn't fool her for a moment--if she was interested in trying to be in the next group when she started classes again in July, and she agreed that she might be. When we spotted her most favorite beloved teacher on lifeguard duty during Family Swim the next week, I suggested that we ask her what you need to do to go into Group B.

The answer was, basically: put your head in the water. Which MG absolutely would not do, not even to please her very favorite teacher whom she loves and trusts so much that she even went down the big slide with her. She's scared of breathing water, it gets in her eyes, her ears hurt, she just DOESN'T WANT TO.

Then--miracle of miracles--a few weeks ago during Family Swim she started propelling herself in the water for a few seconds at a time, in a sort of frantic dog paddle, always careful to keep her head above water. Last week, her new teacher suggested that she might be able to really leap ahead if she could bring herself to put her ears in the water. So today we let her wear her earplugs to classes (why didn't we do that before? I don't know. Because we're dopes. And then we couldn't find them. Also, we thought she wouldn't be able to hear the teacher, and she's not always the best listener as it is).

During class this afternoon I was chatting with my friend Cindy--whose daughter Soralie (almost exactly MG's age but already in Group D) was splashing and diving and backstroking around the pool--when Cindy gasped and pointed to the shallow end and cried "Look at MG!"

My girl was happily dunking her head in the water, up to her nose, then up to her eyes. Each time she bobbed back up, coughing and sputtering, but game, and tried it again. When she saw me watching, she and her teacher both motioned me over. "Mommy, look!" she yelled, then took a deep breath and ducked down until the last little wisp of hair on top of her head disappeared beneath the surface. She jumped up and grinned an electric grin at me, wiping the water out of her eyes, so proud of herself.

She couldn't stop talking about it, all the way home. "Did you see me? Put my whole head under? Were you amazed? I thought it would be scary, but it was fun! Wait till we tell Mama! Everyone was so proud of me! And even more people will be proud of me! I went under I think six times! Or seven, or maybe eight! No, I think I went under twenty times! I can't wait to do it again!" She even said she might want to try it in the pool at camp tomorrow; after all, it doesn't matter how much splashing there is if you're underwater already.

It's so simple, something like this. I couldn't make her want to swim or like to swim, all I could do was sit on the deck and watch, and reassure myself she'd be fine. And-- amazing-- she's fine. She did it, all on her own. All it took was two tiny blue earplugs. And time.


Blogger Jo said...

Yayyy! Go MG! That rocks! Woo!

1:24 PM  
Blogger bihari said...

It's one of the hardest things I'm learning as a parent--to sit on the deck and cheer while my progeny figures it out in his own sweet time, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the timetables of his friends/cousins/neighbors. That, and learning when to buy the crucial difference-making gadget (earplugs, Thomas the Tank Engine underwear, etc).

Go MG! And her wise mothers.

12:36 PM  
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