My husband Andy has taken Charlotte and Gemma-Rose to the swimming pool, and I’m sitting here bleary-eyed after a late night. Yesterday evening, we went to the parish trivia event. Our team didn’t win, but we ended up with a respectable score, and didn’t disgrace the name of teacher and homeschooling parent. We were good at answering questions on cars, vegetables, religion and sport, but we were hopeless at identifying celebrities. But we can live with that.
Andy came home, climbed into bed, and went straight to sleep. I lay awake most of the night thinking about fennel and Rolls Royces and the theme music to Gilligan’s Island. So Andy is feeling fresh enough to swim a few laps and I’m doing what I always do when I’m tired. I ignore the housework and disappear into the computer.
So Andy is swimming and I’m thinking about swimming. Swimming has been a weekly event in our lives for a long, long time. I remember taking our eldest children, Felicity and Duncan for swimming lessons years ago. One school holiday, we headed off to the pool for a week long course of lessons.
Duncan really enjoyed days 1 and 2. He must have been about 3 or 4 at the time. He wallowed in the baby pool, splashing with the other kids, playing with the toy crocodile he’d been given. It was all a lot of fun… until day 3. Day 3 was ‘putting-your-head-in-the-water’ day. And Duncan didn’t want to put his head in the water. He wasn’t ready. I expressed my concerns to the teacher. She didn’t want to know. She had a schedule to keep up with. This was day 3. It was heads in the water.
I begged and appealed and reassured Duncan, and he submitted to being thrown through the water from teacher to parent. But he was frightened. That evening, he did the begging. Did he have to return to the lessons? No. I decided that I couldn’t put Duncan through all that agony. He wasn’t ready. We cancelled the lessons.
Well, Duncan wasn’t ready for swimming lessons the next year or the next or the next. I started to get anxious. How could I tell everyone my son couldn’t swim? Was I a negligent mother?
When Duncan turned 12, I decided it was time to try and help him overcome his fear of water. I talked to him about how it was important he learn how to swim. He agreed we needed to do something about the situation. He could see he was at a disadvantage. He’d been invited to a couple of swimming parties and he hadn’t been able to join in properly. So with Duncan’s cooperation, I organised some swimming lessons.
I explained Duncan’s swimming history to the teacher and she treated him very gently. And Duncan, who had freely agreed to undergo the lessons, did his best to cooperate. I remember the day he put his head under the water. The teacher looked at me, put her thumb in the air and smiled so widely. We both cheered. Actually, I felt like crying with joy. The day Duncan swam a width of the pool was even better.
Sometimes I see other children at the pool who are afraid of the water. Their mothers say such things as “You’ll have so much fun when you can swim. Putting your head under the water is easy. Look! Everyone else is doing it. Once you get in the water and do it once, you’ll be okay.” Echoes of what I once said to my own son.
But will they be okay or will their fear just increase?
I found this quote from John Holt:
If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him.
Yes, I don’t believe pressuring a child to swim, or do anything he is afraid of, is the right thing to do. He’ll overcome that fear and learn when he is ready.
Duncan is now a good swimmer. He learned all the different strokes as well as the extras like tumble turns and diving. No one would ever know he had such a rocky start to his swimming career.
Now it’s Gemma-Rose’s turn to learn tumble turns and butterfly. She’s certainly not afraid of the water. She loves her Saturday mornings in the pool. She’s very different to Duncan at the same age.
Duncan… yes, he was different. But that’s okay. Shouldn’t differences be respected? Shouldn’t a child be trusted to learn when he is ready? Duncan got there in the end.