Friday, May 14, 2010

Keeping my head...above water

My posts usually carry a tone of one who's figured it all out. At
least, I write when I have some insight to isolate and share. This post won't sound that way because I'm actually at a loss.

My kids don't know how to swim. Although some thee-year-olds know how to swim, they're precocious and possibly descended from fish. My seven-year-old's lack of aquatic competence worries me, though.

Right now, he's panicking his way through a brisk four-week learn-to-swim class after-school. I pick him up, and we go around the corner to one of the district's high schools and climb down the ladder into the Coldest Pool in the Western World. His cheery reading teacher, doubling as the swim instructor, leads the kids through various exercises with the support of a grownup (parent, grandparent, etc.). Within about five minutes, Charlie starts shivering uncontrollably. With zero percent body fat, a cold pool gets to him in a hurry. I actually can't distinguish sometimes, though, whether he shivers from cold or fear. He's that afraid of the water.

At moments, he just relaxes, and in those moments, he thrives. Much of the time, especially in the first two sessions, though, he thrashes against my support. While I stand in the water, holding him under his back and on his belly to help him float, he claws at my arms or curls his hand around my neck in a deathgrip. I have tried every approach from happy cheerleader to skill-based consultant to proud you-can-do-this papa. Eventually, both because it was true and because I had run out of other things to try, I told him I was getting angry about his refusal to cooperate and trust me and his own body. I thought maybe he would comply out of a desire to ease my anger.

None of my tactics are working, and I'm starting to worry that he'll never learn. Actually, I think that he will learn. He'll have an epiphany, and the time before he learned will fade into distant memory. But today, we're still pre-epiphany, and my biceps are tired.


Azure said...

You have my sympathies. I started my eldest with weekly lessons at 4.5. She cried and screamed at the pool for the first month. Then for the next year, she begged me to cancel the lessons. The teacher had to pry her from my side each week. This was torture for me because not only did I hate forcing her to do something, the private lessons cost me a small fortune!! (At least they kept the pool at 90 degrees.)

She has now been taking lessons for 2.5 years and, yes, she swims. She is working on her freestyle stroke and is learning how to dive. She still doesn't love swimming and refuses to go into any pool she deems "too cold"; but at least I know she can swim.

My youngest, however, started with the parent and baby classes before she could even walk. (I figured I was already at the pool for my older daughter's lessons.) She is now one of those 3 year old fish-descended kids who loves the water.

So for any new parents out there, my recommendation is to start them early if you can possibly afford it!

K said...

You didn't ask for advice so feel free to delete this, but have you tried a lake? I often think that if a child is uncomfortable in two feet of water, it might be good for h/h to have the option of being in two inches of water. Drip castles, etc. Just getting comfortable, not having a lesson or anything. On a very hot day if at all possible of course!

JFo said...

K, although I didn't explicitly ask for advice, I'll take all help I can get at this point. The idea of gradually being able to walk in and then swim, like at a lake has an intellectual appeal. Charlie did have fun at a lake at his cousins' camp last summer but didn't really stretch for deep water. Very short exposure (brief time on two days), though.

And from Azure's post, I gather I should start working on my time machine!

Anne H. said...

Hi Jeff, advice galore. I think there's no substitute for frequent exposure to the water and chances to play in it. So difficult to make that happen though. Can you move to Florida and buy a house with a pool? Or better, one on the beach. I'll come and be your live-in nanny.

JFo said...

There's no substitute for repeated exposure. By week 4, Charlie could do things he couldn't do in week 1. It was still a wrestling match, but less so. If the weather cooperates this summer, we'll take some breaks from packing and get to the city pools more than we could during last summer's chilly, rainy blah.