Friday, July 20, 2012

Sink or swim

For an Australian who grew up in a coastal city, I'm not actually the best of swimmers. Sure, I can swim... but I was never going to win the swimming carnival events at school.

I was eight when I learned to swim. We'd recently moved to a new neighbourhood, and the kids across the road - who we spent all our spare time with - had a beautiful pool. Not long after moving, my mother enrolled me in swimming lessons at a nearby fitness centre. Unfortunately, I was traumatised after the heinous instructor grabbed my head and held it under water. I refused to set foot in that place again.

After that, I had trouble trusting anyone to hold me in the water, so pool time with the neighbourhood kids involved me using whatever floatation devises and googles were available, and flailing around alone in the shallow end while the other kids - all confident swimmers - frolicked and dived into the deep end.

It wasn't until later that year when my third grade class had its annual block of daily lessons (over a fortnight) at the local public pool, that I made progress. I was put in with the absolute beginners, taught by a kindly grandmother, and she managed to get me to float. It was a big step, and from then on, I was fine. Something clicked in me, and I caught up with my peers. Never confident, but okay, nonetheless.

When it came time to think about getting the Faery swimming, I knew I didn't want to pressure her. She is so much like I was at that age, and gets anxious over the smallest things. It seemed that every single other parent we knew were getting their kids in swimming classes before they could walk. Nothing wrong with that, but I instinctively knew that once-a-week only lessons with her would have no impact. We decided it was better if J - a confident swimmer who grew up in the tropics, snorkelling and swimming around isolated islands on family boating trips - introduced her to the water and built her confidence.

It's been a slow process, but one that I think would have been just as slow had she been enrolled in classes. Our first summer in LA, we actually tried her in weekly classes. Over a three month period... zero progress. She refused to wear her goggles, let alone put her face in the water. Then, a year later (last summer) she was confident enough to ditch her floatation vest which had become a security item in the pool for her. She began just using pool noodles to get around the deeper parts with but still avoided getting her face in the water.

She was still behind most of her little buddies, and it broke my heart to watch her trying to keep up with the other, more confident swimmers. I knew exactly how that felt.

Last month, I learned of daily swimming lessons being offered at a nearby community pool. Eight lessons over one fortnight. At only $40, these classes booked up almost immediately so there was a dawn queue on the one weekend we could register, but I went in and signed her up. J and I knew that now she was dog paddling and improving, it was more about getting her to learn some technique.

Only a week before she was due to start her lessons, we had a breakthrough. Of her own will, she began putting her whole head under water. I can't stress what a big deal this was for her. Immediately, she began propelling herself along under water, and was so happy with herself.

When it was time to begin her lessons, I worried that she might still be placed in (the large) Level 1 class with the absolute beginners, but the instructors saw she could do some basic swimming and and placed her in the Level 2 class. There were only four kids in this class, so the Faery was able to get a lot more help than if she'd been in one of the larger classes.

This is where we've spent most mornings these last two weeks. Yesterday was her last lesson. The final challenge for her class was to jump from a diving block into the water - the 10-feet-deep water.

I walked over to the line she stood in, to let her know I was right there. I knew all too well that as an eight-year-old, I would have cried at the thought of jumping into such deep water - let alone as an almost-six-year-old. I expected tears from her too.

She looked over at me and said quietly, "Mum, I'm a bit nervous to jump in from that big block."

"It's okay, I'm right here. You'll be fine!" I forced a cheery smile but inside, I was torn. I didn't want her to do something if she was terrified. I knew that feeling.

Turns out, she was more than fine. She jumped in, swam to the ladder, climbed out, and - as instructed -  did it all over again. Level 2, passed with flying colours.

All without a wobble or tear - so much braver than myself as a child.

I could not be prouder, or happier for her.


  1. Well done Faery! I'm so pleased for her because I know how this feels to be the only non-swimmer.

    W hasn't learned to swim yet - he will start this summer. I didn't learn until I was 12 ... couldn't even float. I still hate swimming and won't put my face in the water unless I have to.

    J is a much better swimmer and I will let him take the boys for their lessons. I think we'll go with the Auswim or whatever they call themselves at the leisure centre. They seem to know what they're doing. J likes the water so it's all good.

    1. Being a non-swimmer is a feeling I remember too well. So glad she can now be counted as a fully-fledged swimmer - mainly for her self esteem. It's going to do wonders for her.

      Best of luck with the boys' lessons!

  2. What a brave little girl!! My Lil Duck will be starting swim lessons next summer. I just can't imagine watching her jump into deep water. The thought gives me butterflies. Hopefully she will sail through just like your daughter did!

    1. I hope your Lil Duck does, too. She may turn out a real natural, like my youngest (who I doubt will even need lessons when she's a bit older - she has been fearless in the pool from word go). Good luck with it!