She’ll Swim When She’s Ready

She walks right into the water, over the muck and shells, no complaints about the feel of sand under her feet. She splashes at the lake’s edge, her confidence as a swimmer buoyed by her hammerhead shark floaties. She puts her face underwater and kicks for a few seconds. When she looks up, she’s proud to report that she kept her eyes open the whole time. She even ventures out from under my shadow to explore further. Keeping a close eye, I let her go.

This is a girl comfortable in the water. A girl who, last year, wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole. Well, she’d touch it after much coaxing, but beach days weren’t exactly fun. She’d hang at the absolute shoreline, dangling where the water lapped her feet, happier on the sand. She was never a water baby.

What a difference a year makes.

She’s five now, and as with many corners of life, she’s cautious and sensitive. Last spring we signed her up for swim lessons. She hadn’t been enrolled since she was one, and it felt like the right time, if not overdue. My husband and I were both raised by the water. We grew up water skiing and on swim team.  And we agree that swimming is a life skill, not an optional hobby.

A few times last winter, she’d say, “I don’t want it to be spring”.
Me: “Why?”
Edie: “Because I have to take swim lessons”.

I explained that what’s scarier than swim lessons is not knowing how to swim. We talked through her anxieties, but nothing would sooth her except time in the water.

I was relieved that the lessons were with the instructor and kids, no parents, as her insecurities tend to increase if we’re nearby. There was ample resistance, but after a few lessons (and a cheesy Disney-character bathing suit from Target), she got more comfortable. The distance between us helped. She beamed after tentatively exploring a new skill –kicking, putting her face in the water, blowing bubbles. We gave thumbs up from the viewing area. She might’ve been older than some of the other kids in the class, but skill-wise, she was where she needed to be.

This summer, she swam in our kiddie pool and bathtub, insisting we fill the water extra high. She wore goggles and made me nervous on a few occasions with her extended underwater explorations. We went to a pool a few times, where she watched her friend dog-paddle, and she was inspired to try.

This weekend we swam at my parents’ lake house, paddled around on a kayak, and played at a sandy beach on the Connecticut River. She was completely in her element. She even asked to go swimming one more time after dinner. It made me so proud.

Edie's sunset cruise with her Dad.
Edie’s sunset cruise with her Dad. After our photo op, they got on her swim vest.

I love witnessing this once fearful girl learn the joys of swimming. Don’t get me wrong; I want my kids to fear water too. Edie was born two weeks late, and she’s been taking her sweet time ever since. For the past four summers I’ve wanted her to love the water the way our family does. I was annoyed that she stayed high and dry while her cousins splashed around. But it’s not up to me; she arrives when she’s damn well ready. This is the parenting lesson I’m constantly learning from her.

Today, she asked when swim lessons start. I think this summer was a success.

3 thoughts on “She’ll Swim When She’s Ready

  1. I totally understand! My eldest was terrified of water from a young age. We did swimming lessons, she learned to sink like a rock. 😦 we moved to a new city and when people we knew would come to the city, we would always go swim at the hotel pools and visit. She eventually learned to float-ish. She is 19 now, and has the basics, 2nd child.. yeah water was the only thing that got us through colic and being bored.

  2. Thank you. This post gives me hope. My 2 1/2 yr old is petrified of the water (among other things!). Like you, I was in a pool or lake since infancy, so this fear is just so foreign to me. I’ve been struggling with whether to let him continue to avoid the water or force him in so he can get used to it. I can barely even get him to stand at the water’s edge and get his feet wet. I’d been planning to find a swim lesson for him over the winter to see if we could work on it……

  3. I hear ya. Swimming and bike riding are still on our list of “fears to conquer.” Thanks for the reminder that it will happen when she’s ready.

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