Monday, August 1, 2011

The Swimmer

Since birth, my daughter J has had a huge fear of water. While most babies couldn’t wait for bath time, J would cry. While I celebrated the fact J moved from the baby tub to the big girl tub, she would scream as I put her in water. Much to my relief, J’s fear of the bath tub was gone by 15 months old. But waiting for her was an even bigger fear….swimming.

I grew up swimming. My brothers and I practically lived at the pool near our house. Swimming was a huge part of my childhood. So I couldn’t wait to start J in swimming lessons. But there I was unable to do diaper dippers because of my screaming infant. Call me a push over parent but watching my first born shake in fear each time she went into water was not something I was willing to endure.

By age 2 we were ready to start J in the parent tot class. While other parents splashed around with their babies and twirled them in the pool, I gritted my teeth in pain while J gripped strong on to my arms.

Next came the invites to hotel pools with friends. While other kids’ eyes lit up as they saw the mushrooms that spurted water or spraying hoses, these were an even bigger nightmare for J. Now in addition to dealing with her fear of water, we had to add in her fear of loud noises. So taking her to pools to practice was now out of the question.

I backed down a bit and gave her some time off of swimming, hoping time would cure the fear. But by age 3 swimming became the large inflatable dolphin in the room…it was there, it couldn’t be ignored, she had to learn. My motherly fears of her drowning took over and I began to force her back into swim class.

So at age 3 I dragged her in her Dora the Explorer swim suit to a new swim class. Added bonus: I couldn’t be in the water with her, so you can imagine how that went over when I explained that in the locker room 5 minutes before class time. J went with the class and sat on the edge of the pool terrified. She didn’t cry, but she was visibly afraid. But to me the fact she was entering the pool without tears was an improvement. I thought we were actually getting somewhere…well until the teacher brought out “The Stick”.

For those of you who have not had to experience this with your kids, “the stick” was obviously invented by a person who’s child had no fear of water. The concept: the teacher takes the kid, has him grab onto the stick and then dunks him down into the water. I hate the stick.

At first J tried to out-smart her way around the stick by conveniently having to take a bathroom break each time the teacher started the exercise. It didn’t take long for the teacher to catch on to this, however. As J closed her eyes ready to go under, I will admit I closed mine too. My eyes were opened by the sound of my daughter screaming and crying. Compliments of the stick, another swim class failed.

I read every article, every website, every tip on getting your kid over a fear of water. I tried to ask other Moms for advice but I was usually met with the same response: “Oh my daughter LOVES the water!!”. I felt like a failure. I was the only Mom sitting at the Y with a kid shaking in fear instead of excitement. My failure led to my standard over-analyzing and I tried to “figure out” the fear. Where is it coming from? I kept rewinding every bath time in my head…did she ever fall in the tub? No. Did I ever pour water in her eyes? Maybe. Did I do this?

For another year, J avoided having to take swimming lessons this time solely due to the sheer time constraints of her busy schedule. With ice skating, gymnastics, cheerleading, and dance, she simply did not have time to do swimming…much to her relief of course.

But then age 4 came around, and suddenly all her friends and cousins LOVED to swim. Suddenly the fear of water was infringing upon her social life, something a 4 year old Diva was not pleased with.

So we started back. We’d take her to pools at hotels, swim when we could. While I was still trying to blame genetics or newborn bath time, J did something better…she started to figure out how to change it. It started small: she’d lean back in the bath tub a little farther, then suddenly she was laying completely down in the water. Next, I’d watch her go into a baby pool and cover only one ear as she neared a loud splashing mushroom. If she was alone in the pool I’d watch as she would dip her chin down into the water. Baby step by baby step she improved.

So now here we are: age 5. She now loves splashing mushrooms and rainbows spurting water. This time she asked me to get back into lessons. I happily agreed, placing her in private lessons with her brother H.

This came with a new challenge. Unlike J, H was not born with a gene for fear. By the 1st lesson he was off swimming on a noodle by himself. J hated that her baby brother could do something she could not. But each lesson she started to do a little more. Instead of holding the instructor’s arms, it became her hands, then it became her thumbs, and then she did it alone just for a second or two before grabbing for safety. She started to get the concept of kicking her feet. She was still a bit scared, but instead of letting that stop her, she swam right through it. And that was the biggest improvement of all.

So this weekend my husband and I took the kids to the local pool. J loves this place as she can touch at pretty much the entire pool. I was so happy that we spent our first weekend with kids begging to go to the pool.

And yesterday, July 31, 2011, I am happy to report Miss J conquered her fear. As my husband and I sat in the pool, we watched in awe as our once fear stricken little girl started swimming UNDERWATER between us. There was no instructor telling her how to do it, but over the course of a couple hours she taught herself. I even laughed as a Mom of a girl from J’s daycare looked at her swimming underwater and said “Wow, J, you must take lessons”. I of course thought silently “Oh if you only knew…”

My daughter showed me today that she is such a strong person. I’ve always feared that J would be like me in the sense that I unfortunately have let fear control parts of my life. My parents paid for me to go to Germany in high school and I spent the time counting down the days till I got to go home. I transferred from an amazing university to a small college because I was afraid to be there alone. I have given into fear a lot in my life and for the first few years of her life I thought J was the same. But, as I watched J though the pool water only coming up for a brief second to take a breath, my fear was completely silenced. She’s not like me. She took a fear, a fear that crippled her for several years, and shattered it. And amazingly she did it by herself. Now if that is not one of those moments where you can say “That’s MY child” I don’t know what is!


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