25 May 2012

Just keep swimming

I made a deal with Mimi last night. If she will take swim classes this summer, I will too.

Here's the thing: I do not like the water. I mean, I like water, in general. I like taking long hot baths. I like looking at lakes. I like sitting by the pool. I don't really like being IN the water so much. Because I never learned to swim.

It wasn't totally for lack of trying. My mom took me when I was little -- I was a goldfish, or a tadpole, or something. And then when I was in maybe 5th or 6th grade, my mom signed me up for swim lessons at the local high school pool, and the swim teacher was this absolutely terrifying man who taught 6th grade at my elementary school, and I just remember him yelling at me because I didn't want to do something called the "dead man's float." (Which seems sensible, because why would I WANT to do something called that?) I didn't like it. I tried to get out of it. I told lies to the instructor, that my mom would let me sit it out if I paid her back for the money spend on the lesson. No one believed me, of course. I was terrified.

I made it through that course and even the required dead man's float test, but I don't know that I voluntarily ever got in a swimming pool again. Then in high school we had to take swimming as one of our P.E. requirements. That sucked, too. My class was divided into people who knew how to swim and people who didn't; the kids who did went down to the deep end and worked with the gym teacher on jumping off the diving board and learning new stroked. The kids who didn't? We stood around in the shallow end holding kickboards, feeling idiotic.

And after that, I never HAD to get in a pool again, until the summer Mimi was three and I was pregnant and I decided it would be a brilliant idea to take her to toddler swim lessons. I spent those standing the shallow end with her clinging to me like a baby monkey, refusing to let the instructor pry her legs from around my waist long enough to teach her to kick. Since a year earlier she'd screamed when we tried to put her in two inches of water in the bathtub, I actually considered this progress. We did a beach vacation that year too, up near Traverse City, and I think that was the last time either of us were at an actual beach.

Then I broke my foot (yes, at seven months pregnant) and Mimi's dad finished out the swim class with her. And I think that's the last time Mimi and a pool had any formal interaction. Boo was born in September; I had massive PPD and was back at work in six weeks and my marriage was dying and I was dealing with a newborn and a three-and-a-half year old who was having SERIOUS adjustment issues to having a baby sister, and a 13-year-old stepson who, ditto times two. Extracurricular activities rather fell by the wayside for a bit.

A year and a half later we moved to a house less than ten minutes walk from a community pool, and talked enthusiastically about how we'd spend the summer teaching the girls to swim etc. But the marriage was in its death throes and the soon-to-be-ex lost his job, and things really weren't going well at all. And after that, somehow, we just never got around to hitting the pool.

Last summer, at the new house, the girls set up their kiddie pool and the sprinkler in the backyard and were happy with that, although Boo mentioned learning to swim a couple of times. I didn't want to discourage her, but I also didn't really want to be the one to take her. And Mimi didn't want anything to do with the idea. Near the end of the August last year we accompanied friends to a local water park, and I realized how much of my trepidation I'd unwittingly passed on to Mimi when she backed out of the "Lazy River" tubing ride, which was something even I enjoyed. And she wouldn't go in the water without me, while Boo would have dived in and not looked back, despite her lack of actual swimming ability.

I put off thinking about this for most of the fall and winter, and now suddenly spring has morphed into summer as it tends to do in Michigan, and people are buying pool passes and talking about beach trips and making summer plans, and I realized I have to do something about this. So last night I brought up the idea of doing swimming lessons.

Mimi immediately buried her head under a pillow, as she does when she doesn't want to talk about something.


We talked about why not -- this is what therapy has done for this kid, she DOES eventually take her head out from under the pillow, with some encouragement, and use her words -- and she said she was scared. And that she was worried about going under the water. And that she would sink. So I told her that I was scared of the water too, and that I wished I had learned to swim. That I didn't want her and her sister to be afraid of the water like I was, and that it was really smart to learn to swim because then you can go in pools and lakes and boats without being scared. That it makes you safer -- she interrupted, at this point, that "then you can just swim to the shore if you're in a boat and it sinks, instead of waiting for someone to come rescue you," which, HI MISSION ACCOMPLISHED as far as indoctrinating the "learn to rescue yourself" lesson -- and she said that yes, she does want to learn to swim, but she's still scared.

So I said, "A lot of times bravery is being scared but doing something anyway." And we talked about examples of that. Learning to ride a bike. Taking a shower by herself (this was a recent accomplishment, and a Very Big Deal). Playing on the soccer team. I told Mimi she is the bravest person I know, who has done the scariest thing of anyone I have ever met, and she looked at me like I had no idea what I was talking about.

"Mimi, you got on an airplane with two people you had just met, who you were still a little scared of, and came to a different country where the language was different and the food was different and the people even looked different, and you let us be your family and take care of you."

She started to laugh. "But I was a BABY! I didn't know any better!"

And that made me laugh, too, but I pointed out that made it even braver, because we couldn't even explain to her what was going on, that she was two years old and that she could have decided not to love us but she did. She started to cry, and I started to cry, and she said, "Well, at least these are the kind of happy tears. It's not really SOBBING. That's when you're like ah, ah, ah, and your face is ALL WET." Heh.

So THEN we calmed down, and she said she was still scared of swimming, and suddenly this was about a lot more than heading down to the pool, so before I even thought about it, I said, "look, if you will learn to swim this summer, so will I." And her jaw totally dropped open, and I thought, oh, SHIT. And she hugged me, and told me SHE was proud of ME and that I was the bravest person she knows.

So, it looks like I'm learning to swim.


  1. And then I cried all over my keyboard.

  2. You are a brilliant amazing parent and person!

  3. Congrats to you both!
    Also, since the Newsies soundtrack has been on a perma-loop in my brain for the past two weeks, "Courage does not erase our fear, courage is how we face our fear."