Olivia has never liked getting water on her face. Not in the bathtub, not in the shower, not running through the sprinkler, and most certainly not in the pool. For most of her 4.5 years if any water has splashed onto her face, she would become quite uncomfortable, start to cry, and insist on a towel to dry it off. She does, however, LOVE to go swimming. Some of her favorite days include those in which we get to go to the Y for Family Swim time. She loves to wear her floaty, play with water toys, jump off the side into our arms, do "tricks" by twisting and turning and laying back and putting her legs here and there. In the past year or so there have been several times where she has put her face all the way under the water and come up to realize that she is soaked, but none the worse for wear. She gets lots of encouragement and praise, of course, but we never insist that she go under.
Jeff, of course, is a Swimmer with a capital S. He swam club swimming growing up, life-guarded, taught lessons and was a HS swim coach. I loved and still love to swim. I was on teams in elementary and HS and there was a time in my life where I swam laps as my exercise. It's needless to say we both hope Olivia will learn to and love to swim throughout her life. Which leads us to her first swim lesson.
As we worked up to the day of the lesson, Olivia went from nervous to pretty excited. I think at first she was worried she would be forced to go under water. We reassured her that the teacher would be helping all the kids get used to water, but that it would be fun. Playing. And she would not have to do anything she doesn't want to do. Fast forward to her in her adorable bright pink Hello Kitty suit, sitting on a mat with 8 other kids her age to a few years older, listening to the head teacher. The teacher was explaining rules such as "no running", "no screaming because it sounds like a whistle," and "if I yell, I'm not mad, I'm just trying to get your attention." Then she said "Who likes to put their face in the water?" Hands shot up. All hands. Including Olivia's! And this is where my mama head and heart sort of collided. My sweet little one, already eager to be like the group, wanting to please her teacher. Feeling a sense of place as one who could fit in, one who could be a delight to her teacher.
This first day was called "show off day." All the kids entered the water and waded out to their belly buttons. They lined up on the wall and took turns showing the teacher if they could do what she was asking. "Who can jump up and down and get their shoulders wet?" Everyone. "Who can hold onto the wall and kick?" Everyone. "Who can blow bubbles?" And this is where my heart skipped a beat, wondering what Livi would do. Would she try it? Would she feel like she could pass? Did she understand that she didn't have to do everything everyone else was doing? Did she know we would be proud of her no matter what she could do? She tried it. She did it! She looked up at us with an expression of "did you see me?! Did you see what I did? Did I do well?" And I gave her the biggest smile, a big thumbs up, all the while tears running down my face. (tears running down my face, still, as I type the memory.)
And the rest of the class continued in kind. The more advanced kids were separated and taken to the deep end while Livi and 3 others stayed in the shallow area. They kicked, hummed, walked on their hands across the pool, pushed off the side into the teachers arms. I watched in complete awe as each child gave it their all. Each sweet little face eagerly trying something new, giving it a shot, opening up their little bodies and minds to learning, to growing. Not even fully conscious about what a life lesson this was, bigger even, than simply putting their faces in water. A lesson in trust. A lesson in trying. A lesson in figuring out just what their own limits are while wanting to fit in, while wanting to please, while wanting to make someone proud, while wanting to learn.
Of course my mind fast forwarded to grade school. To high school. How will we encourage Olivia's sense of self. Her determination to learn, to do new things, to fit in, yet not conform just to be a part of a group. What will we do to help her feel comfortable getting her face wet, even go all the way under water, without getting caught up in any currents that kids around her might pull her into? Wow. Parenting. What a huge, huge thing.
At the end of the lesson Livi was a happy girl. We were so proud. She accomplished something big and was excited about her next lesson. Exhale. Exhale.
PS. We went early the next week and Olivia played in the water for 10 minutes with a girl from her class. It was so fun for me to watch her with a big smile on her face, playing comfortably in the water with another girl. Her next lesson was more chaotic, with 7 kids instead of 4. That blog post would be about how on earth to help tiny children understand paying attention, letting others have a turn, not acting silly when they should be sitting still, etc. But when I asked Olivia what her favorite part of her 2nd lesson was she said "playing with my new friend." So sweet, innocent and precious. Who wouldn't be happy about having fun playing with a new friend? Looks like swimming lessons are a lesson for parents, too ;)