Teaching the Babies To Swim

originally in Abilene Families

One wouldn’t imagine that any outdoor job in a West Texas summer would be enjoyable, but I would venture to say that I have one of the best summer jobs around.

I suit up, and stand in about three feet of cool water and teach little people how to move their bodies through water.

Teaching swim lessons is a delightful glimpse of human nature encapsulated in a child’s body.

Some children come to swim lessons full of bravado: “I am the BEST swimmer ever!”

“You are? Well, would you put your face in the water?”

“Oh, no. I can’t do that...”

Some children come to swim lessons with fears fully realized. There may be tears when asked to do what appears to be a completely nonsensical act, like float on your back.

A swimmer all my life, I trust the water and it makes sense to me. However, to a beginning swimmer, none of it makes sense, especially the part about laying on your back.

As I tried to coax one beginner into floating on his back, he clutched me and finally said, “I am freakin’ out! Get me on land!”

As we move from “freakin’ out” to perhaps trying to get one little body moving through the water, the children who are mystified that they can kick through the water with face in the water and live to tell about it are a joy to teach. Once those swimmers start figuring that process out, there is no stopping them.

Of course, the Mt. Everest of all swim lessons is the diving board (cue ominous music). For the level that I teach, going off the diving board isn’t required but each child is given the opportunity to try each day, always with me floating underneath to catch any child that thinks he or she needs it.

On occasion, a hesitant swimmer will succumb to positive peer pressure and venture out onto the diving board. From the look in his eyes, you can tell he thinks this is not the wisest decision he will make today and perhaps he should consult his inner chakra for a better day to do this. Say... when he’s seventeen, or, you know, never.

But pride overtakes the inner chakra and he can’t just walk off the board. No, there’s no turning back once you are out there. Eyes full of terror, knees literally shaking, he sizes me up. Will I really catch him? How far can he leap and land squarely on my head? It has happened more often than I care to count.

Over the years, I have gotten better at gauging the distance a child can jump and how to get myself out of the way, but I never cease to be amazed at the amount of water a 40 pound child can displace.

I always wish I could capture two pictures: the eyes of the child as he leaps -- the terror, the questioning, the fear mixed with determination -- and the moment his face emerges from the water -- the joy, the pride, the victory mixed with relief.

I suspect I will have that same look in my eyes soon as I pull up to one of the local high schools to take my older child for the first day of high school. The questioning: How did this get here so soon? The determination: We will make it through this, with most of our sanity intact. Let’s roll.

You may be heading to pre-school or kindergarten, middle school or college with the same questions and determination. A few years down the road we will all emerge -- with joy, pride, victory and relief that we have made it through to the other side.

And at the end of it all, there just might be snacks and a warm towel.

1 comment:

Roxanne said...

OR something tall and exotic. ;)

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