mending the broken spirit

Somewhere around age 1 1/2, Ethan began swim lessons for the second time. We tried swim classes when he was an infant but the dunking and aggression just didn't jive well with him (or us). We gave our city's local aquatic complex a shot when we re-enrolled him that second time and, by dumb luck, were matched with a teacher that just spoke to Ethan's heart. His swim teacher was incredible both in terms of personality and what she did for her students. Within a couple of weeks, she was able to turn my timid, nervous wall-clinger into an actual swimmer. Ethan was swimming -- honest to goodness swimming -- and it completely blew my mind. Most importantly, he was loving his time in the water. The more his teacher helped him hone his swim skills, making way for new achievements such as diving to the bottom or perfecting his "swimming arms," the more time he desperately wanted to be in the water to practice and work at it harder. We can swim for survival, but neither my husband nor I are swimmers so this love of Ethan's was such a shock to both of us. Still, as his parents, we encouraged him to do what he loved. At around 2 1/2, he was swimming with his teacher three times a week, sometimes four. Once he turned three, he was required to be bumped up into the next age bracket. This meant losing Ethan's beloved swim teacher (despite my begging and pleading). It ended up working out okay, because Ethan hit the swim instructor lottery in the next class as well. His new swim teacher quickly formed a special bond and they became instant friends for the two sessions he had with her -- and then she moved.

It was all downhill from there.

Ethan was assigned a new swim instructor who just didn't mesh with his personality. Let's be real, she didn't mesh with ours, either. I was only a couple months out from having lost Wylie and we were all feeling a little fragile, Ethan included. Her "tough love" and firmness wasn't working for him. Months earlier we were discussing swim teams and private lessons and then I sat there listening to my child scream and start to resent the very hobby he loved so much. Week after week, he would plead with me to not make him go. As I listened to this new teacher inform my child that big boys don't cry and other shameful disciplinary measures that don't fly in my book, I made a decision that I felt was right: I pulled him out of swim class. There were many parents who didn't agree with me and that's okay. The very activity he loved the most was quickly becoming something he dreaded and feared.

That swim instructor broke Ethan's spirit that summer. He refused to get into a pool after that, screaming and becoming hysterical when I even proposed the idea of a swim playdate with friends. It was a frustrating time for me as his parent, not knowing the right thing to do and desperately wanting to fix it.

After taking a year off from swimming, I asked Ethan if he wanted to visit one of our local community pools this afternoon. He was really excited to go, but became immediately timid when we walked up to the water. "Hold me, mommy. Don't let go." I held him in the shallow end for a half an hour, the smile on his face growing into fits of laughter. "Mommy, let go of me." His request came out of nowhere but, a half hour in, I let go and watched him swim the length of the pool to the other side, coming up midway for a breath of air. He swam for an hour and a half until the pool closed, the sky growing dark and the water feeling uncomfortably cold (to me, Ethan didn't seem to have an issue). "Mommy, I want to do this every day. I want to live in the pool. I want to live in the pool and do this every day."

It seems silly to feel so joyful about two hours in a community pool, but there is peace in my heart tonight in knowing Ethan's spirit has healed. It was broken, but it has healed. It felt so good to watch him rediscover his love for the water.

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  1. How awful for Ethan! I can't believe that the woman couldn't see what she was doing to him. A method that works for one kid doesn't work for another, and she should know that. I am glad that he has fallen in love with swimming again.

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