I donít care if Iím ten and still canít swim. You can make me go to swimming lessons as much as you want, but Iíll still hate them and wonít learn how to swim because I know I will sink if I let go of the edge.Ē
Jello cubes of wisdom from the seven year old who recently announced, in a voice that could chill Alaska, that she doesnít have to always do what I say.
ďIf youíre just suggesting something, I can still make my own decision!Ē
ďWell, you have to learn to make good decisions on your own.Ē Like, I suppose, her decision not to say in front of her parents the d-word or s-word or f-word sheíd heard on the bus. Unlike her decision to pinch her brother for looking at her while she was reading.
Iíd recently read an article about raising children to be independent thinkers, so knew a comeback other than ďGo to your room.Ē That put me one step ahead of Her Sassiness. Not, apparently, a problem in this case anyway, whereas staying alive if she fell into water over her head would be. Without a lead article in a parenting magazine to guide me, I opted for the old-fashioned route to a solution. No discussion, no rationalizing. A grown-up decision. Lessons.
My husband or I would teach the children ourselves, but the two shortest people in our family seriously question their safety in our company. If, while standing in a parking lot, holding our hands, they should hear another car start, they scream, ďA car! A car! Itís going to get us!Ē On the walk from the house to the garage, in a slight breeze, they shriek, ďWait for me!Ē as if weíre on the opposite side of a football field and they canít see every step we take. They grab our hands with a clasp sure to defy any gust that might carry them into the sky and far from their next meal. Itís small wonder they believe we would let them drown in front of us.
Though outwardly calm and amused about the fears they express, the same fish dart about the deep cold well lurking below my heart. I am afraid that a several thousand pound vehicle will sweep out of nowhere and snatch them away. I am afraid that if I lose sight of them for even an instant they will vanish in the claws of a vulture. At night I wonder if I could hear someone entering the house, then leaving with one of them. What if someone brings a gun to school, again, and a teacher doesnít intervene before itís too late? I donít know if Iím tall enough or strong enough or smart enough to keep them safe, really safe.
I live on a dirt road with a
dog that barks at falling leaves and snowflakes. The miles of green
and gold stretching around us cloak me in a sense of security. My
fears are born in newspapers and books that tell more than I want to know
about the hell human beings can wreak. Awful things happen to kids,
sometimes at the hands of their people they know.
In the preschool swimming class, I have to hold Riley in the water. That means me, in a bathing suit, in front of people Iím likely to see in the grocery store. I used to pretend that these thighs were my secret, cleverly hidden in the folds of a long skirt or coat. So much for that delusion. Despite the magnitude of this sacrifice, I would not let him drown. Just in case, he reminded me every morning to hold him in the pool.
As if I could, or would, forget. In the water I could hug him, swing him around and bounce up and down. Free of layers of clothes that separate us on land, skin to skin, we are in pure mommy-little boy love. Me, reminded by his smooth, sun-browned, warm skin that our love is deeper than any pool, and him, fully trusting me to keep him safe. We are free of size, free of his bossy older sister, free to imagine him being a boat or a shovel when he grows up. Free of those ugly fears of not being able to do what we dream, we love swimming lessons.
Colleen, Determined To Hate Swimming, fell in little girl love with her teacher and Casey, the college student who helps. For them she gladly took a shower before getting in the pool, then put her nose, mouth, and eyes in the water for a whole second. One day she told me that Casey held her up in the water with just one finger. Magic.
This is seven-going-on-eight magic, the kind that is possible only via a teacherís wand and that makes other things real, including walking on a wet floor without whimpering about how cold it is or complaining about getting wet while in the pool. It is actually more than I anticipated. She spent her summer discovering how to be independent without being sent to her room for it.
Swimming lessons made her strong enough to walk many feet behind me on a sidewalk, confident enough to walk to and from the locker room without me, and eager for more. More learning, more water, more magic.
Making that happen is harder for me than I let on. Part of me wants to hold her hand forever. But I want her to learn that she can let go of the familiar and still survive. Learning to swim at the high school was an easy path to that lesson; there was always a lifeguard to pick her up if she should sink. She didnít, despite her dire predictions that letting go would be the end of life as she knew it.
Float, keep your head above water, kick, and grab any hand to pull you to safety. Having traversed almost four decades, sometimes floundering, I know thatís important.
Swimming lessons are a bargain.
Write "Ellavon" at email@example.com.
Released: January 6, 1999