Swimming Lessons (or, at least not freaking out when you get water on your face)

2 08 2010

Last week I gave my son, Caleb, his first swimming lesson.  Actually, it’s not his first swimming lesson ever, just his first real one with me.  Usually his Dad handles that task, but both get really frustrated pretty quickly.  I took over this last time at a little hotel pool in Roanoke, VA.  This is one of the very few times I think I exhibit more patience than my husband with Caleb, and I think it’s because I can relate to Caleb’s fear of getting water anywhere near his face.

Flashback about three decades:  I was four or five.  I don’t remember exactly because I don’t even remember this particular memory on my own.  I’ve heard my parents tell this story, a favorite of theirs, so many times that I now claim it as my own.  Anyway, my parents thought it was high time my slightly older brother and I took swimming lessons at the local YMCA.  My parents never mention my brother in their telling of this tale, so I assume he did fine.  I did not. 

screaming little girl

*NOT ME* but a very realistic image of what I'm sure I looked like

At the first lesson, all the kids were in the water holding onto the ledge in the shallow end and were practicing submerging their whole body in the pool and holding their breath for a few seconds.  I apparently did not think this was an appropriate activity for me to join in.  I stood just far enough away from the edge of the pool that the instructor couldn’t reach me.  All the while she was gently trying to coerce me into the pool, I was screaming at her, “I HATE YOU!  I HATE SWIMMING!  YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!  I WANT TO GO HOME!”

During this tirade of mine, my parents were sitting in the bleachers with the other parents who were commenting, “I wonder whose child that is?”  “I’m glad that’s not my daughter.”  “Her parents must be so embarrassed.”  And so embarrassed were my parents that they joined in the questioning of this poor, pathetic child, pretending they didn’t know the truth.  I imagine they wanted to become a part of the wall.  I’m not sure how we exited the building that night, but I can easily imagine them asking my brother to meet them in the parking lot so they wouldn’t have to be seen with me.  So ends swimming lesson one.

Over the course of the next few weeks or months, I somehow overcame my fear of whatever I was afraid of that first day.  I learned to hold my breath under water, float, tread water, and some form of what could be called “swimming.”

All those in-between weeks were just the calm before the storm, though.  Our last lesson ended with what supposed to be a special treat for the kids:  jumping off the short diving board.  While all the other kids lined up eagerly, I managed to secure a position at the end of the line.  As I slowly made my way to the front, I waited until there was just one person in front of me, then I stole to the back of the line again.  I was successful in evading the dreaded jump for quite a while, and the other kids were happy when I let them pass in front of me.  Our instructor finally caught on though, and made me take my turn.  Quaking and trembling, I made my way to the edge of the diving board.  Many tears and more screaming (by me and the other kids) followed.

Norman Rockwell

*NOT ME* but another realistic image of what I'm sure I looked like

The instructor told me that all I had to do was sit on the edge of the board and she would catch me, and I wouldn’t even get my head under water.  After what was an eternity to a little girl (it was probably about five minutes), I finally “jumped.”  You can’t really call it a jump, though, but I don’t know what the right word is.  Maybe “butt scoot” is better.  Anyway, I did it, and cried some more, and that concluded my swimming lessons.

A year or so later, my family would go to the same YMCA on Friday nights for the open family swim.  I’m not sure what changed in me, but I was no longer afraid.  I remember (and these are actually my memories and not stories from my parents) not just jumping off the diving board, but actually diving head first and doing front and back flips.  In my early teen years, I even jumped off a bridge in Independence, WI, about a 20 foot drop.

In my adult years, I have reverted back a little to being afraid of water.  Not water so much as drowning.  Now, I can’t even snorkel.  I first tried snorkeling during our honeymoon in Aruba.  My husband and I were in about two feet of water, and I could not do it.  I started hyperventilating every time I put my face in the water.  A few years later, we planned a trip to Belize which has the second largest coral reef in the world, the largest being the Great Barrier Reef off of the coast of Australia.  Snorkeling was high on my husband’s list of things to do, so I thought I’d practice in our tub at home.  Hyperventilating ensued once again, this time my face was only in inches of water.  Needless to say, I did not snorkel on that trip.

I do enjoy pools and “swimming” as long as I can keep my head above the water.  I enjoy the ocean as long as I can keep my feet on the ground and I don’t see any fish.  (I also have an irrational fear of fish biting me.)  Mostly, I enjoy the view of water from a beach or a boat or a balcony.

Back to Roanoke a week ago.  I finally managed to get Caleb to dunk his head without freaking out and almost float on his back by himself.  At the start, his tears were from fear.  At the end, he cried because he was “so happy.”

I can relate.




5 responses

4 08 2010
Home business

excellent post

5 08 2010
home jobs

I will start swimming.

5 08 2010
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[…] Swimming Lessons (or, at least not freaking out when you get water … […]

25 10 2011
Irrational Fears (and other things that just freak me out) « To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings

[…] sharks.  (At this point, you may wonder how on earth I ever completed a triathlon that requires swimming.  Very, very slowly and inefficiently as I do not swim with my head under the water.  I prefer […]

6 12 2012
This Is Why You’re Not Getting a Christmas Card From Us This Year (or maybe ever again) « To Kick a Pigeon and Other Musings

[…] Jason and Caleb took their first official swimming lessons this summer.  Lesson 1 involved Jason crying and screaming for the full 45 minute session.  He had snot running out of both nostrils to his belly button when I picked him up.  He only cried for about 15 minutes of lesson 2, and by lesson 3 he was actually excited to go.  Now, of course, the kid is terrified to put his head in the water, which reminds Kelly of herself as a child forced to take swimming lessons. […]

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