29 July 2010

Mama doesn't learn to swim.

I have a child. (You didn't know?)

He is three. He is a boy. He is as three and as boy as any three year old boy in the history of the world. It is such a southernism for a woman to say "whew - well, he's all boy" - as though the opposite option is some bizarre form of behavioral androgeny. But I say it all the time - and mean it. Eason is ALL boy.

Since he crawled up a ladder to the kids' fort at 14 months and crawled up Paul's ladder onto the roof when he was just two (the former of which we allowed with close supervision and hands to catch, the latter of which was a sneaky move by him that gave me a heart attack and about sent his daddy into an institution), I assumed that there was nothing of a physical nature of which he would experience fear.

I thought - this kid - he'll be scared of asking girls to dance (okay, not really, but...) or of standing up and spelling things in front of people - or of an impending nuclear holocaust... but not of anything physical.

(Actually, I kind of secretly thought he'd never show fear of anything.)

So this spring, when we re-introduced the pool, I got a shock.

I thought for sure that I'd have to make sure he didn't drown in his eagerness to swim.

I thought he'd be like our friend Mae who thinks she can the 200m butterfly, but can, in reality, go about 15 seconds and 29 inches before she needs assistance.

I thought by the end of the summer he'd be going off the diving board.

I thought I knew my child.

But God knows exactly when I need to be knocked off my parenting high horse. He knows when I'm thinking "I've got this" a little too confidently. He knows when I'm sleeping a little too well at night. And he knows when my identity is getting a little too wrapped up in them.

Ada is reading up a storm, Collins is responding to the word "No" about 77% of the time, and teaching Eason to swim is going to be a piece of cake.


Ha. Ha.

This spring, we took Eason to the pool, and well, he mentally broke down.

Let me remind everyone who doesn't know - Eason is the loudest child in the history of the world. Louder than I was as a child or am as an adult. Louder than my little brother who was even louder than I am. Louder than Ada Brooks.

He began screaming his fool head off. The entire pool is of course horrified. Actually, the only people there were three women in water aerobics and our good friends who were swimming with us - none of whom are the horrified type. Well, the water aerobics women might be.

My sweet, brave three year old boy was terrified of the water.

In a most irrational way.

He would grasp at my bathing suit - wouldn't even let me hold him out from my body so he could kick his legs. He wanted to be in his towel on the sidelines.

I thought "This is ridiculous. Scared of the water? Not my child. Not happening. I will win this battle."

And make no mistake. I win battles. I don't set my mind to everything, but when I do, dammit, I win. The potty training battle - though it was hard fought with Eas - was definitely a win for me. What they'll eat... well, we all know who is winning that one. What they'll watch on television. Again, check in the Mom column.

I am a winner. They have strong wills, but guess where they got those strong wills?? huh?

So, I set out to fight. Let me clarify: I set out to win.

Three days a week, minimum, I was taking the kids to the pool. And Eason was breaking down. I thought, "I just have to push forward." I would let him have some time with his floaties and then I'd require that he work on swimming - with me holding him - but practicing kicking his legs, etc.

And he'd lose it. And I'd grit my teeth and become more resolved. He didn't win on diapers and he wasn't going to win about the pool.

And we went on like this - for, I don't know, six weeks.

He cried. He screamed. He busted ear drums.

And I dug my heels in - I roped Paul in - I roped Ada in - I even had help offered to me by my dear swimming buddy who was looking on in calm horror as this spectacle unfolded.

And then... I quit.

It was a combination of things. One, I was exhausted. Two, I genuinely feared for the hearing of those around us. Three, it wasn't working. And Four, I looked into his eyes and realized he wasn't faking. He was really, truly terrified.

Six hard fought battling weeks and nothing. Yes, perhaps I should take a lesson from the french at Verdun (a lesson from the french? in battle?) - I should hold out for more like 10 months.

But, like the french, I had a high casualty rate. But it wasn't a mere 100,000 men - it was my sanity. More specifically, the part of my sanity wrapped up in security that I am a good parent.

I did what many, many parents do. I quit fighting the battle so I didn't have to call it a loss. (Yes, the vietnam analogy is not lost on me here, but I think I'm done with my war history for the day).

I quit. I just decided to let it go.

But contrary to what is popular among parenting these days - I announced that I was quitting. I didn't skulk off into the darkness and hand him a package of MnMs - I said "Hey Eason - Fine - you don't want to learn to swim - that's fine - I get it - you're scared - fine - do whatever you want to in the water. Sit on the side of the pool, play in your inflatable ring - whatever makes you comfortable - let me know how I can help you."

I retreated. I put up my white flag.

And now, six weeks post surrender, he swims like a little fish. Or at least that's what he says. He jumps in the pool, kicks his little legs, almost an entire five feet over to me. He races his friend Mae. (They both lose...) He plays ring around the rosie with me and falls down and touches the bottom - even in the four foot water.

He's happy. This happy:

Yes, that happy. Even and especially with these goggles on. Which are funny enough to make the whole world laugh.

Yes, I am tempted to claim a victory. I am tempted to plant my flag upon the land of the not-afraid-of-water Eason.

And I guess, in the only ways that matter, it is a victory.

But it's not my victory. I didn't learn to swim. He did. (Kind of - i mean - he'd still drown if he dropped him in the middle of a lake... but he's on his way.)

Eason won. He overcame a very genuine and paralyzing fear. Sometimes kids are scared - actually scared - not play scared [as you can imagine, my patience for fake scaredness is about as long as my patience for whining].

And during that time, the only thing to do is hold them. Tell them you are going to help them, to a great extent on their terms, overcome their fear.

I am the grower up of my children. Well, Paul and I, but you know... =)

And it's not always a battle. In my reaction against the current popular cheerleader mentality of parenting, sometimes I forget that there are times when cheering is the appropriate thing to do.

So yes, I did "I'm so, so very proud of you" - even when all he did was put his face in for two seconds. I felt ridiculous. I did little dances when he made any progress. I made up, and sang, in public, songs about Eason the Fish. I clapped. I jumped up and down in the pool.

I looked exactly like those mothers that gross me out.

Because Eason learning to swim was just as much about humbling his mother as it was about him. Because God knows what he's doing.

I lost my battle, but Eason won his. And that's what the parenting is all about. We don't potty train them, teach them to read, fight against fruit snacks for us.... and our pride. We do it for them. Or at least we're supposed to be doing it for them.

Our identity is not in our children, right? =)

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