When I was growing up, I was raised on stories of how my uncle taught himself to swim in a creek not far from his house and how both of my parents learned to swim as adults. One of my fondest pool memories is clinging to my dad’s back while he did the crawl across a pool. My least favorite memory is falling off a sailboat with my dad into a river and, being a young swimmer (but in a life jacket), struggling to hold onto him while he kept pushing me away while trying to secure the boat so that we could get back in it; he told me on the way back to shore and many times that night that he was watching me and that the life jacket would keep me afloat.
That memory continues to haunt me and, even as I write this, I can feel many of those same emotions that I had almost 50 years ago. Swimming is a life skill. That’s why my parents made sure that my brothers and I learned to swim, why Ontario has a Swim to Survive program for every grade 3 student in the province, and why I have put both of my boys in swimming lessons.
My oldest son loves the water and always has. He loved going to his weekly lessons, listened to what he had to work on and improved to become a strong swimmer. I was certain that his little brother would follow his steps; how wrong I was!
The Littlest Dude started lessons when he was three years old. For the first year, he was fine. Then one Sunday afternoon, in the middle of a lesson, he had a meltdown – not a typical 4 year old meltdown but a full-fledged “I need my mom” panic attack. For the last few weeks of that session, we had anxiety about going into the pool, tears once he finally got in and screaming until we were told “Don’t bring him back until he is ready.”
And it has taken years for him to be ready. We have gone swimming at the Rec Centre and public pools but, for whatever reason, I simply have not been able to get the Littlest Dude back to swimming lessons. He cried and lost sleep over the grade 3 Swim to Survive program but he was able to get through it; I think peer pressure helped with that. This year, now that he is almost 10 (so a lot more mature, right? Ha!), I was hopeful that he would be ready to start swim lessons again.
On the first week of holidays, I took him to see a local swim school. The Littlest Dude seemed to like it and agreed to an assessment so that he could take lessons through the summer. On the day of the assessment, panic set in; I could not get him out of the house. I called the swim school and apologized. Then, I proceeded to tell The Littlest Dude that he was not allowed to go swimming anywhere, even with me, all summer unless he was taking swimming lessons.
And I meant it. I struggled with the heat wave and other days with high temperatures and he didn’t ask if we could go to a pool; he knew. Last week, we had what has become a regular discussion: “We need to teach you how to swim this summer.” We were running out of time as we didn’t have the earlier potential of 8 weeks of lessons ahead of us; we had just two. I knew that if I didn’t get him in the water before the end of August, the chances of his taking lessons over the fall and winter were next to none.
“Okay,” he agreed. “Can we do them next week?”
Within 24 hours, everything was in place. He had done his assessment and registered for two weeks of swimming lessons. The bribes were in place: a day of zip-lining for finishing Week One and a trip to Wonderland at the end of the session. What he doesn’t know is that I had planned both as summer activities anyway but was waiting until the timing seemed right. Without a doubt, the timing is now right! We also discussed organizing fall swimming lessons at the end of the first week and he is already thinking that Thursday nights will be best for both of our schedules.
Every afternoon, I give The Littlest Dude a 30 minute warning before we have to leave the house for his lesson. Once we get there, I give him the 5 minute, 3 minute and 1 minute warning so that he can make that last minute trip to the bathroom and, every single time, he waits until the very last minute. And every single time, I take a deep breath, often more, and remind myself that this is okay. He is taking swim lessons; he is learning; he is finally ready.