Tuesday, April 08, 2008
This water boy...he was born into the water. And then we took him to the local municipal pool when he was 5 weeks old. He seemed to love it from the start, enjoying the weightlessness that must have recalled the womb (though surely those last few weeks in there he didn't have room for any floating seeing as he seemed to be wedged in there pretty well). We dreamed of being one of those water baby families, submerged and swimming newborns. He sputtered and didn't seem to mind too much, but it certainty wasn't instantaneous mastery or comfort. We enrolled in a YMCA class when he turned one and he happily splashed along with the little songs and blew bubbles. But a year later, he wanted nothing to do with the class. All he wanted to do was jump from the edge into his Papa's arms...so that is what they did, the instructor trying to reengage them but they had their own agenda.
The last month of swimming before the cold weather came last October Bowie was beginning to swim. He had spent the whole summer saying that he'd rather be in the wading pools, choosing to float and submerge himself in the 3 feet deep waters while I pined for the cool deeper waters. I saw children forced into the water, crying and trying to climb up their parents and knew that I had to wait for Bowie to be ready, even as I felt like those shallow waters were simmering around me. I could see how much confidence and comfort he had in those waters, wearing goggles and reaching down with his face under water to retrieve diving toys. He would hold his breath and float. All on his own. No lessons or guidance from me.
And then we discovered the amazing outdoor pool at one of the suburban YMCA's. As soon as he saw the water slide, he was more than willing to go deep. The life guards allowed us to wait down at the end of it to catch him. Initially, Chris stood right there catching him up nearly immediately. I suggested he pause a second or two. We continued to gradually increase the time he was in the water before scooping him up. We went again the next day. I stepped a few steps back. And I saw that he could kick himself up to the surface. So I paused and stepped back, and he would get his head above water on his own. And then in ever so tiny increments, I'd extend the time before pulling him to me, both of us laughing and smiling, him shouting and coughing out, "Again!" Within that week he was swimming up to me and then to the ladder. I was always in arms reach, always reached out if I saw his hand searching for mine.
And when we moved into our house in the fall, we swam here in our very cold pool for about 2 weeks before things got frigid, even for a little boy that loves to swim. He must have leapt into the deep end and swam to me then over to the step at least 200 times. I remember seeing how hard it was for him, how he'd sputter and spit and gasp, yet it was so joyful for him. I really connected this to unschooling. I was seeing how none of it was scary, none of it needed to be coerced out of him, none of it was even encouraged and all of it was his own desire and my willingness to observe and support him.
Twice Bowie fell into the pool between swim seasons. The first time I was right beside him and pulled him out right away. The second time I was gardening and he was on the other side of the pool, watching the pool vacuum. He leaned too far over and went in head first. It only took a moment to get over to him, but he was treading water, his face above water catching his breath. He cried about his gardening boots that had slipped off and were on the bottom of the pool. I stayed calm and we talked about how he had been able to keep his head up, how he had been close enough to grab the edge, what he could do if he fell in again. It was is favorite story to share for days.
Late in the winter we stayed at a hotel with a pool thinking how much fun Bowie would have. Well, he was wary of the deep end again. Chris kept trying to lure him, playfully, but Bowie wouldn't bite. I reminded Chris that it might take him awhile to build up his comfort again. We couldn't assume that he's in the same place he was a few months ago. Our first few swims at home this spring, Bowie clung to us. He held on with his hands and feet.
I held him and reassured him that I wouldn't let go until he told me he was ready. I told him that he should only be in the water when and where he feels safe. He started to enjoy the steps and floating on rafts. He fell off a raft twice one afternoon, again able to keep his head above water and this time grabbed the raft to steady himself while Chris got to him. Chris smiled at him, reacting in a joyful, calm way.
And then we got a noodle at the pool supply store on Saturday. He immediately seemed to feel so confident with it. He jumped into the water, would get completely submerged and then, in his own words, "Pop up to the surface!" I had read and heard that noodles weren't too hindering to the process of learning to swim, unlike arm bands and life jackets ( we never used any of those items..if he had wanted to I guess we would have tried them but I never wanted to impart that he needed them to be safe). And I could see why the noodle was recommended. It didn't hold his full weight. He held it under his arms and his body would float in a horizontal fashion, rather that the vertical flotation of other swim devices. He loved it and felt totally safe with it and swam across the pool with his noodle tucked under his arms.
The past 2 evenings he put his snorkel on and swam over the steps to the shallow end, noodle free. Tonight, after swimming with the noodle all day, he spent the last hour swimming all over the shallow end with his snorkel and mask. Initially he sort of jerked himself around, legs dangling down. But he seemed to understand that if he raised his legs up behind him that he'd make more forward movement, and by bedtime he was really looking like a swimmer. Chris and I grinned ear to ear, cheered him on, swam near him but he was adamant that he did NOT want to be touched while he was swimming.
I am so thankful to him for constantly giving me the lesson of trust. There can be a lot of fear associated with water, for parents perhaps more so than children. But over and over again, he shows me that I can trust him, that I can trust the world to unfold and for us to grow and learn as we live in it.