Welcome to the First Week of Swimming Lessons

A father debates whether to rescue his toddler from the pool and console her, calming her fears, during her first swimming lesson.

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When I opened the door of my car, I could hear my daughter Annabelle cry out: “Mommy! Maaah-mee, Maah-ahh-meeee.”

Shaky whimpers interrupted her sobs. Running sinuses drew in. Welcome to the first week of swimming lessons.

I unlatched my son Henry from his car seat and walked down to where the cries of his big sister boomed. Annabelle’s arms were firmly wrapped around my wife’s neck. When my daughter saw me, she reached her arms up like an inmate whisked away as my wife waded through the water in the opposite direction following along to the instructor’s song.

If you’re happy and you know it, kick your feet
If you’re happy and you know it, kick your feet

“Daah-ee. Daah-ee.”[ref]Annabelle still hasn’t mastered “Daddy” with the double consonant and, to be honest, I will be a bit sad when she does. Daah-ee is warm and childlike, sweet and poetic to a father’s ears.[/ref]

Instinctively, I wanted to seize my daughter from the pool and console her, voicing to her everything was okay; that she didn’t have to take swimming lessons, that we would try again next year.[ref]With that said, I don’t want to exaggerate my initial reaction. The thought itself to rescue my child from her own fear was replaced within a matter of three seconds max by another thought: she is OK.[/ref] It was perhaps the first moment in our parenting lives when my wife and I were faced with the decision to “rescue” our child from her own fears.

fear [feer]
noun
a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid. Synonyms: foreboding, apprehension, consternation, dismay, dread, terror, fright, panic, horror, trepidation, qualm.

Do we stand on the sideline or rush the field? Were we traumatizing our daughter or passively helping her? She was not the only child with tears of trepidation – though she did win the blue ribbon for loudest. In my heart, I knew–and my wife knew–we were doing the right thing.

Annabelle loves the water. To avoid raising her ears lest we have full intentions of going, my wife and I used to foolishly spell out P-O-O-L until we unraveled the common sense mystery that spelling out “pool” sounds almost the exact same as if we were saying the word itself.

“Pool. Pool,” Annabelle would reply every time we took part in our own impromptu Spelling Bee in the kitchen.

Would lugging her out of the water help matters or would that cement her own fears even more – that Mommy and Daddy also feared she was not ready?
It was not as if Annabelle was in any danger. Her swim buddy was her mom – not some stranger.

As the lesson moved forward, her tears began to dry up and her cries lessened though not entirely. Unfortunately, for all eardrums poolside, Annabelle’s cries and tears were replaced by the booming vocalizations of another child her age whose parents did scoop him up from the water. Seeing their response helped me realize the decision my wife and I made to be the correct one.[ref]The other kid never returned to the remaining lessons.[/ref]

Whereas the first day of swimming lessons did not go quite as planned, the second day was a complete 180. No cries – only kicking and splashing and smiles.

To be a parent is to go through trials, tribulations, and triumph.

If you’re happy and you know it, splash your hands
Kick your feet, jump up high, wave goodbye

July 1, 2013

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