Sunshine is taking swim lessons right now. She has always been terrified of the water. Absolutely. 100%. No doubt about it. Terrified.
We have been swimming, and even with her trusty Puddle Jumper there to protect her, she would cling to me or simply choose to sit on the steps. She has always been content to watch her friends have fun frolicking in the water.
Saint Daddy and I recognized that she needed lessons a few years ago, and we signed her up for lessons at a new area swim school a few months after her brothers were born.
The lessons were okay, I suppose. After a few weeks of twice weekly lessons, Sunshine was not terrified but she was also no more willing to move away from the steps of the pool at her best friend’s house.
Now that she is six, we knew it was time to try again. So we signed her up for the best lessons to be had. Everyone says so. People come from counties around for these swim lessons. This method was developed here and has been imitated throughout the region.
Sunshine’s lessons began on Monday morning. They last for an hour and occur every morning.
She was nervous on Monday morning. She did not eat much breakfast because her belly hurt, which she often says when her anxiety is piqued. It is the only way she knows how to describe her feelings. I hear her clearly when she says it. She is really saying, “I’m scared.”
I convinced her to put on her bathing suit, and we drove over to the local college’s pool together.
She sat next to me on their bleachers, pretending to not be scared. But I knew. Her fear was palpable, and I was nervous for her. When they called her name, I squeazed her hand and promised her that she would be okay.
Sunshine followed the other children down to the pool, away from their parents. I knew that many of those children had more experience than Sunshine, but I also knew we were in the right place.
I watched from afar as Sunshine was evaluated and then shifted to another area of the pool. She was not ready for whatever they had put her in initially. I was not surprised to see that. She hates even getting her face wet during bathtime.
I watched her, and each time her instructor turned his back on her, she climbed out of the pool. I watched her pull away from him as he tried to bring her back in and another instructor had to pick her up and hand her to him. I watched as she gripped his neck when he tried to have her bob into the water. I watched as he pried Sunshine’s tiny arms from his own so he could give another kid his time.
When that first lesson was over, Sunshine came to me in tears. It was too hard. She was too scared. She did not want to go back.
We walked out to the car. I opened the back hatch and placed Sunshine in the trunk space. “Tell me about it,” I said.
Sunshine said that swim lessons are a big thumbs down. The other kids were better. She was so scared. Her instructor was nice, but he kept asking her to float and she did not know how and she would never know how. I held her cold, wet self for a few minutes and we got into the car.
“I don’t want to go back tomorrow,” she announced a few miles into our drive home.
You have to…
I turned down the radio, rolled up the windows, and slowed down the car.
“Listen, baby,” I began. “I know it’s hard, but… Do you remember the first time you read Big Pig on a Dig? Do you remember how hard you thought that was? Do you remember how you yelled because you didn’t think ‘ground’ made any sense? Do you remember?”
“Do you remember how it felt when you figured it out? You read the whole book and you felt awesome?”
“There are going to be thousands of things in your life that you think are too hard. Things that seem impossible or really scary. Things you are convinced you can’t do. But you’re going to work at those things. You’re going to practice. And one day, you’ll do them and you will realize that they are not so bad. Because you can do that scary thing, and just like reading Big Pig on a Dig, you’re going to be so happy with yourself once you see what you can do.”
“This happens to everyone, baby. We all get scared sometimes. Mommy has this thing. I have never really named it for you. It’s called anxiety. It tells me that things will be too hard and that they won’t be worth it and that I can’t do them anyway. But I can. I just have to tell my head to let me do it. That’s what I want you to do, baby. I want you to tell your head that you can do this. Because I know you can. I know it’s not too hard for you. Your teacher won’t let it be too hard for you. You’ll do it. So will you go back tomorrow and try?”
She did not seem entirely convinced, but she did not fuss in the morning when we returned.
It took her instructor a few minutes to convince Sunshine to get into the water, but he did. Somehow. And once she was in, she stayed in there with her group for the remainder of the class.
After class was over, there were no tears.
I again sat her in the trunk. She said that she hated bobs but that class was a thumb to the side. Maybe it would be a diagonal up tomorrow, she said.
On day three, she was the first member of her group to get into the pool.
On day four, she began to practice bobbing with her group members while they waited for their instructor, who was working with other students.
When she joined me on the bleachers she announced that class was “finally fun today.”
When I sat her in the trunk on day four for our post-swim class ritual, she told me that her instructor told her he was proud of her and that she thinks she could probably bob for five (seconds) during the next class.
Outside of class, Sunshine’s baths have become much more pleasant. She puts her face in the water. She does not scream when the water runs down her face. She told Saint Daddy that she wished our tub was deeper so she could swim in it like she can swim at swim class.
Within class, she has become far more confident. She bobbed up and down enough times for me to get a video for Saint Daddy. She laughed with the other kids. She put herself into the pool.
She will most likely never request to join a swim team, but she is not terrified of the water. Maybe, just maybe, she will play with the other kids the next time we go to a pool.
Sunshine’s swim lessons are a great example of how facing the scary thing makes us better versions of ourselves.
My anxiety has told me thousands of times that it would be better to not go again tomorrow than to keep trying. My anxiety has told me to quit and stop making a fool of myself. My anxiety has told me that I am not worth the improvement.
But I am. Sunshine is. We all are.
I know I gave Sunshine my mental illness. I passed it to her in my breastmilk. I did not mean to, but I did.
I hope that she hears the lessons that I have learned and can learn from some of them so she does not have to spend so much time figuring it all out on her own. If she cannot learn from me, at least I can say that I will always be there to love her though it.