When people ask me the secret to Ethan's swimming success, I always point out my "trial and error" theory because I believe it wholeheartedly. Once we found a curriculum that Ethan loved (gentle, repetitive and play-based) and a teacher who he adored, he wanted to learn and at that point, it became less of a chore and more of something he looked forward to. We signed up for lessons at our city's aquatic center as a trial last spring only for Ethan to fall madly in love with the class and teacher. Within no time, he was swimming -- really swimming -- and his teacher said at three, he could be bumped up from the mommy and me class to the class intended for 4- and 5-year olds. I was so proud of him, of course, proud of the way he really pushed himself to learn and how much he loved the water, but also a little nervous. I was nervous because the jump to the big kid class meant a lot of things: a new teacher, new curriculum -- and mommy or daddy watching from the sidelines instead of being in the pool with him. Aside from the occasional hour or so at Grandma's while I do a solo doctor appointment, Ethan has never been away from me and I was nervous as to how he would do in the hands of a stranger.
Still, he wanted to continue on with swim and I'm not going to teach him to give in to fear. If there's any trait of mine that I refuse to let Ethan inherit, it's the buckling under fear. He wanted to do this swim thing and that meant he was going to do it and know how capable he was. (Even if mommy sat on the sidelines, out of view, and cried. Which was also probably due in part to the fact today was supposed to be my baby shower and it was supposed to be held at the clubhouse at the pool where Ethan takes his lessons.)
The class started out rough. I took Ethan to meet his new swim teacher and he refused to do anything but bury his face in my legs. I even pointed out his old swim teacher who was in the same pool teaching the babies in the class he had graduated from. The other children in Ethan's new class are five years old, which is something else I worried about. They had plenty of experience in a school setting and a better grasp at listening to instruction. I didn't want anyone to make Ethan feel silly or inferior in some way because of this. I already have a hard time with this since Ethan is so big and therefore people typically think he's a lot older than he actually is. Thankfully, his new swim instructor was very sweet and let Ethan spend the beginning of class on her back while she taught the other children. I thought this meant swim class was turning into an utter disaster already, but I was wrong. Within minutes, he warmed up to Miss Josie and they couldn't keep him out of the water. Which was sort of a problem, since the other kids were old enough to know to wait on the side until their name was called. Ethan, on the other hand, was just an overzealous newly-three year old who doesn't really grasp the whole "sit and wait" thing yet. They eventually called in a lifeguard to sit with him on the side and dote on him while the other kids had their time with the instructor.
My husband tried to prepare me last night for how rough today was going to be. It was my first experience with handing over my screaming child to a stranger and walking away and I didn't think I was exactly ready. I was worried that this experience would ruin Ethan's love for swimming or make him forget everything he had learned. After all, he can swim -- these are now optional classes to further learn technique or how to really swim properly. Continuing swim class was Ethan's choice fully but that didn't really pardon my nagging mom guilt about leaving him alone, screaming, with a stranger. My husband and I were both shocked -- in a good way -- at how well Ethan took to the situation. After a few rocky minutes, he was swimming and having the time of his life. The next meltdown we had was actually getting him out of the pool. This is the class Ethan can choose to stay in until he's six years old, when he can join the city's little swim team if he wanted to. It's crazy to think about, much like remembering those first days in swim learning to blow bubbles and float while laying on my arms. I blinked and now my kid was swimming properly across the pool. Little arms popping in and out of the water, little feet kicking behind him.
I wonder if this is a hobby that will stick with him, a love he will have for many years ahead. I wonder if he will want to continue on until he's six or join the swim team after that. I wonder if he will wake up one day and decide that, no, just simply knowing how to swim is good enough for him. I watched my little sister go from loving to dance to burning out her senior year of high school, the same fate my husband's high school football career suffered his junior year, and I wonder how I can nurture this along properly. How I can encourage him without suffocating him, how I can sort of properly assist him in his swimming journey despite knowing next to nothing about swimming myself aside from basic survival. Swim is the first activity Ethan has truly loved and thrown his entire self into and, as a parent, it's been an amazing thing to watch. I don't think he has any idea how proud I am of him for facing his fear and not letting it stop him from doing what he loves. He makes me a little braver, too.