Friday, May 13, 2011

When A Special Snowflake Gets Water in His Eye...

...its kind of like giving a Gremlin a bath, while serving it a 4-course meal after midnight, in a brightly lit room.

That's what swim lessons have been like for us for the past month.

You might remember me posting this picture:

in which Ethan seems to be gleefully embracing his inner aquatic animal (I'm guessing otter), ready for the fun of swim lessons to begin. And for several weeks, he looked forward to swim lessons with an enthusiasm that had him asking on Monday "is today my swim lesson?!" and slumping over into full-blown depressive angst when I responded "no, honey; swim lessons are on Saturday. You've got 5 days until your next lesson."

For weeks Ethan frolicked in the water with his best friend (or his wife, for those following the epic love story of Ethan and Tiny P), dipping his face in the water, blowing bubbles, and holding the hole-y bucket of water over his head to get used to the idea of water in his face. Husband and I were thrilled because Ethan's spent years screaming bloody murder every time we had to wash his hair and we had anticipated a similar headache-inducing response with the swim lessons. But he seemed to love them! Visions of snorkeling and endless games of Marco Polo and water volleyball danced in our heads! Our next house can have a pool!!! We'll have rafts and noodles, and pool parties and a cabana boy!!!!! (okay, maybe that last part was just me...)


Week 5 found us reading an announcement on the white board that teacher "L" will be permanently replaced by teacher "K" for the rest of the spring session. Okay. That's fine. We deal pretty well with personnel changes. And teacher "K" seemed pretty nice.


Teacher "K" has a strict "no goggles" policy in her lessons; the belief being that beginning swimmers use them as a crutch and should they accidentally fall into the pool w/o the goggle crutches, they will apparently sink like a stone to the bottom of the pool because they don't know what to do without their goggles on. So in order to assure complete and authentic, un-crutched water confidence, no goggles allowed.

And this is where my special snowflake FREAKED THE FUCK OUT.

See, Ethan's got a streak of perfectionism in him. He didn't crawl until 10 months, but when he did, he crawled like it was his job. He didn't walk until 15 months, but his walk started at almost a run. He didn't potty-train until almost 4, but when he did, it was a "I'm done with diapers, mommy," type of thing and since giving up nighttime diapers, he's not had one single accident over night. Ethan does things in his head 100,000 times before he attempts to do them physically. Husband and I know this about him. He's not reading anything willingly yet and is only really writing his name, but we're not concerned. When he does decide to start reading and writing, he'll be pulling Dostoevsky off the shelf and composing love poetry for Tiny P in calligraphy (or something like that...). And I'm sure that while he wasn't looking like Michael Phelps out there in the pool, he was taking it all in & preparing mentally for the day that he would put all the kicking practice and arm movements together and take off across the pool, his eyes goggle-free, open under the water the whole time. Because that's how he is.

The problem is that Ethan simply wasn't ready to give up those goggles. He was LOVING his lessons with teacher "L" and her focus on getting the kids comfortable and happy in the water. With teacher "K", the shrieking peals of "I don't waaaaaaaaaant to go to swim lessons!!!!!" begins sometime around mid-morning and ends with us forcibly carrying him to the car so he can cry the entire 20 minute drive to the swim school for his lessons at 1pm. It's wicked fun, people.

Since day one, Husband and I had been able to sit in the gallery, behind the glass, enjoying the view of our child splashing and practicing his kicks and blowing bubbles. But now, in order to peel Ethan off of one of us, we have to go into the pool area and stand right at the edge of the pool to keep him from going into full-blown cataclysmic tantrum mode, the likes of which sounds 100x worse than it even is because of all that awesome pool-water and high-ceiling'd green house echo chamber effect. So! Magical!!

This past week, I got all "that mother" and informed teacher "K" that Ethan is simply not ready to give up his goggles and he either wore them or we just weren't going to stay. She nodded at me, let Ethan put on his goggles, and moved on with the lesson, but I could tell inside she was calling me all sorts of unflattering curse words. Ugh. I hated that. Because I was a teacher. And I had a way of doing things, too. Not that I was unyielding in my ways (because I wasn't) or unwilling to teach to the child (because I was).

But I will readily admit to having my teacher feathers ruffled on more than one occasion by a helicopter parent who got in my face about how I HAD to make exceptions for their special snowflake when I knew full-well said special snowflake was capable of doing things my way, but reveled in their special snowflake status and watching their mother and/or father steamroll all over their teacher (please note I am NOT referring to students who had actual learning challenges or anything of that nature; I'm talking about "my kid should really be allowed to turn their homework in late b/c she went to a concert last night and couldn't finish her paper," or "my child is going to Australia for a month; can you get me the next months' worth of assignments by tomorrow?" or, "Lord of the Flies is awfully violent for 8th grade reading; couldn't you maybe teach something like Ghandi's autobiography instead?" Or my personal favorite, the phone call I received from a mother, furious that I had "assassinated" her daughter's character by not accepting a plagiarised piece of work. I wonder why I don't miss teaching?!)

So yeah, I hated getting all "you have to play this my way" with the teacher, because I'm sure her way works most of the time AND I know that I won't always be there to fight Ethan's battles for him or make sure that he's 100% comfortable with everything that's asked of him in a learning environment. But Sweet Fancy Moses, the melt downs. And the fear of the water.

I just couldn't bear the idea of him becoming so afraid of the water that he refused to go in. Or that his swim lessons would have to stop due to them becoming a complete waste of time and money. I hated swim lessons. A camp counselor one summer picked me up & just chucked me in the water because I was standing on the side of the lake dock shaking & crying. "Enough of that! Just get in!" she said as she hoisted my 7 year old body up off its feet and threw me into the lake. That was pretty much the end of it for me. I can tread water for a minute or two and I do a mean doggy paddle. But I never trusted a swim teacher after that. So maybe its my own baggage that makes my insides curdle when I see a swim teacher force Ethan into a scenario that scares him, that he's not ready for. And he's not me; maybe he would adapt and get over it and later on be grateful for the hard-ass "no goggles for you" swim teacher. But.

And there are some things we might just say, "you know what? This isn't right for you right now; we'll return to this another time when you're a little older." But swimming isn't just a fun hobby like cooking classes or soccer. While I know I'll always have to be vigilant as a mom at the pool, I look forward to a summer without the anxiety of my child sinking like a stone to the bottom of a pool while I look away for a nanosecond to swat a mosquito.

So, yeah. I'm that mom. And my kid is that special snowflake. Oh the joy. The special magical joy.


Bethany I. said...

I feel for the both of you. I think my mom tried to get me to do swim lessons, but I feel like I was born with (my father's?) fear of the water. I cannot stand water in my eyes, not even in the shower. Slipping from the shallow end into the deep end when I was four was terrifying. Being tossed in the water by people who didn't know any better? Infuriating.

And then, at 10 or 11, I got a swim mask that covered my eyes and nose. For a whole summer, I was finally able to swim under water without fear.

The no goggles rule after being allowed to use goggles previously? Wow. Talk about shaking a kid's confidence. I don't see special snowflakeness; I see a potentially left-brained person trying to teach (what sounds like) a right-brained kiddo. I hope things settle between you folks and the swim teacher.

lonek8 said...

I just love when you call him a special snowflake. so funny

In general I'm kind of a "deal with it" mom - I have very little patience for tantrums and screaming and because I am not interested in having Child Services called on me because I freaked out on my spazzing kid I try to nip this type of behavior in the bud by never giving in to it. Which is not to say there aren't times when it is just unavoidable and you have to leave. So I may have caved and spoken to the teacher like you did too. because swimming lessons aren't really optional. Izzy was registered to play soccer, but really didn't want to, so I let her drop that before we had even started because it wasn't worth the fight. But swimming - you have to learn how to swim, if only enough to not drown when you fall in, and if staying in class means ignoring your child's tears or being "that parent" and forcing concessions from the teacher for your special snowflake, then that's the way it has to be.

fyi - I hated swimming lessons too. I think it's a rite of passage to have horrible experiences at swimming lessons. So really you are just giving him the authentic experience

Sarah said...

I got nothing. Same issues here. Glad the goggles worked. Which? WTF? Harry's teacher requires goggles. Seems like a silly thing to fight with kids about KWIM?

Amy said...

No goggles have been requested here, but for a few weeks, I had to peel Jack off of me not because of fear of the water, but because of fear of leaving ME. it was insane and unexpected and so weird. But finally, after several weeks of having them drag him off of me, it was fine.

The teacher sounds weird -- if he wants goggles, let him wear the damn goggles. It's not affecting his swim technique and makes him feel secure. Annoying!