This summer I’ve been writing about my “other” safety passion: drowning prevention. A few weeks ago I urged all of you to enroll your kids in swim lessons. Shortly after that, I wrote about how my daughter fell into the pool during my son’s swimming lesson and I realized that I needed to heed my own advice.
And I kept my word. I immediately scheduled a recurring appointment for my daughter, Anna, and she has had several lessons already.
I wish I could say it’s going…well…swimmingly. I’d love to say that Anna has taken to the water like a fish and loves nothing more than getting into the pool with her instructor each week. But that would be a humongous lie.
She does like the water–that’s never been a problem–but she hasn’t yet gotten over the separation anxiety that was the reason we pulled her out of lessons in the first place.
Each week, she has cried more and more before her lesson. At first, she cried when I changed her into her suit. The next week she cried when we got to the parking lot. Last week she cried–no, screamed–10 minutes before we left the house, for the entire 25-minute drive to the pool, and all during her brother’s lesson.
I wanted to take her outside, but I had to keep an eye on my son and get ready for her lesson. Anna continued to scream (and when my daughter screams, she SCREAMS), and her anxiety fit sent me into one of my own.
The other moms stared at me. I felt bad that she was interrupting their quiet half-hour next to the pool. What must they think of me? Who would subject their child to something she clearly hated?
I began to wonder if we were making a big mistake. Why should I subject my child to something she hates? Why would I torture her like this?
Then I remembered the panic I felt when she fell into the pool, a panic that far exceeded any anxiety I felt about her lesson or the people staring at me in disgust.
Sometimes Anna screams when she has to get in her car seat. Sometimes she screams when I insist she hold my hand in a parking lot. Sometimes she screams when I don’t let her near the stove when I’m cooking. But I don’t give that a second thought: I don’t care if she screams. It’s about safety.
Her swim lessons are, too.
So I sat there with her and kept talking to her gently. I told her I knew she didn’t want to go in the pool, but she needed to, and I knew she’d do a great job. At 27 months her capacity to reason isn’t overly developed, but she did eventually calm down a bit.
The amazing thing is that once the instructor took her into the pool, she stopped screaming. Her lessons still just consist of the instructor carrying her around in the water so she can collect toys to balance on a kickboard. He has put her on her back a couple times and sprinkled her head with a watering can, both of which she tolerated just fine.
Although her anticipatory anxiety has been growing, the lessons themselves have each gotten a little better. I’m hoping that a few more fun sessions will lessen her anxiety to the point that she won’t scream beforehand, and that she might even look forward to going.
Though I’m not necessarily holding my breath.