Saturday, February 26, 2011

She Swims

This little girl is ready for her first swimming lesson.

It started a few weeks ago when we mentioned that she'd be starting lessons. Will I get a new swimsuit because I've grown? Yes, Alyce. A brand new suit. Will I be able to splash? You bet.

A few days before her first lesson, we packed her bag. I was excited for her, but also a bit anxious. I hated swimming lessons. Loathed them, really. Now, I loved to swim and could spend hours in the water. But for me swimming lessons weren't about enjoying the water, or even really about swimming. When I think about swim class I am immediately flooded (sorry) with insecurities about my body, my inability to crawl forward or backward--don't even get me started on my elementary back stroke--and most of all, my general disinterest in learning to hold my breath. Why would I want to stay under water when the air that I need to breath is right here, on the pool deck. At summer camp I was in the same level swim class four years running.

Speaking of summer camp: One year I had a particularly sadistic counselor-in-training who had me convinced that the water on the other side of the ropes (the area of the lake in which we were permitted to swim was marked with rope) was filled with piranhas. On the second last day of camp she pushed me over the rope into the piranha-infested waters. I screamed, she laughed. I should really look her up.

Back to my Alyce. I want her to learn how to swim and I hope that she loves her lessons. The Talmud, Matt tells me, obligates parents to teach their children how to swim. Alyce knows, because I seem to tell her all the time, that my most important job in the world is to keep her safe. She understands that it's my job to protect her from falling down and getting hurt. If only she knew that I also really want to protect her from feeling bad about her own body or anxious over never quite landing the right stroke. I want to protect her from ever feeling inadequate.

But my obligation is bigger than this. What I really need to do is get Alyce ready to face the world on her own. I can't protect her from feeling inadequate or awkward or clumsy. I just can't, as much as I might want to. What I can do, I hope, is give her the confidence to learn how to swim in spite of the other feelings. I will get excited for swim class right along with her.

I thought she'd be hesitant, but she wasn't. When her teacher called her over to sit by the pool for the first time, she let go of my hand, looked back at me just for a second, and then promptly forgot any anxieties she might have been feeling. She jumped in the water, learned her kicks and scoops, and asked for her next lesson the second the first one was over.

And now my Alyce is a swimmer.

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