Just one person can set my daughter back on the starting block. Just one instructor can make her fear something she so recently loved. Just one moment can make her not want to try anymore.
I spend so much time emphasizing perseverance and fortitude with my daughter. I have read her The Little Engine that Could so many times that I have it memorized (doesn’t take a photographic memory, I guess) and I can still see the paper cut scars. I want my daughter to be brave and bold in life. I never want her to give up, unless she does everything she possibly can to succeed…and then some.
As mothers, we work very hard to build the most functional, sane and well-adjusted little people we possibly can. In fact, we persevere to do so. Then, one person pushes them too far and it erases all of our hard work. It’s that same emotion I feel when I see an Olympic swimmer practice for four years for one shot at a medal and, in haste, they dive off the starting block too early…deeming it a false start. All of their hopes and dreams are erased in one moment.
Okay, it’s not quite that melodramatic and heart wrenching for me (my daughter is just shy of 4-years-old), but it feels like it. After the Concordia incident, I decided to enroll Babyface in swimming lessons. It’s never too early to learn and it’s a valuable skill to know, lifesaving even.
I found a school with an indoor pool, so she can learn year round. The student and teacher ratio was excellent, 4:1 (2:1 or 1:1 in some classes, if you were lucky and no one else signed up). For the first 12 weeks, she had a patient and kind teacher. She warmed up to him so quickly that she was off the steps and into the pool on the first day. My husband and I thought, “wow, she’ll be swimming without a floatation vest or a noodle in no time.”
When we went to Disney World, she started off timid, but by the end of the trip, she had made great and brave progress. After we returned and she started back up with swim class, we noticed her teacher had changed. This one wasn’t as warm and friendly, but he seemed to push her more. My husband and I thought, “maybe this is a good thing. She’ll learn quicker.”
My fear with pushing children at such a young age is that they end up not loving what they’re being pushed to do. They have to take the activity at their own stride. Only at the right pace will they have the best chance to decide whether it’s the right fit or time to move on to something different.
Well, the teacher must’ve pushed her a little too far out of her comfort zone. Ever since her last class she’s afraid of going into the water. The look on her face makes me search for a shark fin in the water. Did she wake up, flip on the TV and watch Jaws in the middle of the night?
She now says, “it’s too hard, Mommy.” I found out later that her teacher is known to be a little rough on the little ones. While this may work for some kids, it’s definitely not the way to my daughter’s heart. It makes her curl up like a caterpillar that’s just been poked in the belly.
I took her swimming, separately, with her friends. Normally, I can at least get her in the water with a floatation vest and a noodle. She didn’t budge. She sat on the steps and clung to the railing for 3 hours straight. I thought, “Maybe she’s following her friend and just wants to talk. She looks happy.” Boy, was I wrong.
We took her back to swimming school and she shouted, “I don’t want to go in! It’s too hard!” She snuggled into a corner next to the pool. She was as far away from the water as she could get. If she could have shrunk, she would’ve climbed into a hole in the wall.
We tried everything to peel her away and get her into the pool. I offered her treats, for after her lesson. I offered her water toys, dangling them over the pool. I even got to the point where we were going to a movie that night, if she would just get her butt in. She didn’t move an inch.
Another teacher approached me and said, “sometimes it takes a teacher just pushing the child one step too far in the pool and they become afraid. You may want to consider changing her teacher.”
Aha! She thought it was too hard because her teacher had pushed her too far. That afternoon, my husband and I took her to the local, community pool. We decided to help her work her way back into the pool. We were willing to weather subzero temps in the water, just to get her feet wet (okay, the water was more like 70 degrees, but cold enough). After all, she had once loved to swim and it was only weeks prior.
After about 30 minutes, we finally got her to let go and stand in the 3-foot section. We were still well behind where she was three weeks ago, but it was progress. Next time, I will make sure I ask around and learn about the teacher before I sign her up for another class. Lesson learned.