Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Swimming Against the Tide

Henry has never liked being in water.

The only way he'd tolerate bathtime as a newborn is if I went in the tub with him. When he was big enough to be bathed without me holding him, he stood up the entire time until he was about four.

He was okay with his wading pool as long as he could stand up in it, but he did not care for regular swimming pools at all, not even when someone he trusted was holding him mostly out of the water.

And sprinklers? Forget about it. Water down near his feet was bad enough; water squirting up at him was out of the question.

But then suddenly, this summer, he began to enjoy playing in swimming pools. One day we stopped by his grandparents' house and my mother-in-law suggested we walk down to their condo association's pool just to check it out. I expected Henry to walk around the edge of it as usual, but instead he immediately began to walk down the stairs fully dressed. I think he would have gotten completely wet if I hadn't stopped him.

A few weeks later we went to a hotel with a pool and once again Henry plunged right in. He took rides around the pool on Daddy's back, played in water up to his chest, and had fun climbing out the side of the pool and then walking down the stairs to get in again.

We took him back to my in-laws' pool after that, bringing kickboards and an inflatable swimming tube. It was crazy how suddenly fearless Henry was. At one point he even went under the water; he was hanging on to a kickboard with one arm and the tube with another but walked out too far and his head went under. My husband grabbed him and sat him on the side of the pool, and although Henry coughed for a bit, he didn't seem fazed at all and wanted to get right back in.

All of which made me think that maybe Henry was ready for swimming lessons. I grew up taking lessons all summer long, and while I think my parents overdid it, I do believe that knowing how to swim is pretty important.

So I signed Henry up for eight sessions of thirty minute lessons spread out over two weeks. He was not happy about it, as I expected, but I was able to coax him there.

At first it seemed to be going well. He walked with his classmates over to meet the teacher, and when she invited him to sit on the side of the pool he asked if he could walk down the stairs instead. He started to head down, and then suddenly he freaked out and came over by me. He clung to me for the rest of the class, despite the teacher's gentle invitations to join them.

I agonized about what to do. Should I force Henry to follow through with the lessons, even if he was only going to watch? Should I bribe him or try to impress upon him how important it was to know how to swim?

In the end none of these things felt right to me. I thought about what huge strides Henry had made from one summer to the next, all on his own. How he hates to be "taught" things. How we're unschooling because I believe that he'll do what he needs to do when he's ready.

I recalled the years and years of swimming lessons I had and how much I disliked them. I never go swimming now if I can help it. My husband, on the other hand, grew up with a pool in his backyard and had few to no lessons, but still enjoys swimming with his kids.

I realized that Henry will learn when he's ready to learn and in whatever way he wants. It doesn't have to be by a certified instructor when he's five.

I mean, look at that smile:

Why would I want to interfere with that?

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