"Is one of us supposed to be a dog in this scenario?"
"Oh, I'm the dog???.....I'm the dog?""
Yes, friends, I am the dog.
See, we've had Ethan in swim lessons for a couple of years now & the time that I've been excitedly waiting for and secretly dreaded has come. The deep end. Full-body submersion & the deep end.
Initially Ethan was super hesitant about the water--bath time nearly required full body armor and water proof ear plugs for us, as there was much flailing, wailing and bath-toy projectiles hurled at us as we attempted to wash the child's hair. Days would go by & Husband and I would make excuses as to why tonight wasn't the night to wash his hair. It was traumatizing for us all. Dear G-d, the screaming. Neighbors from DC to LA are probably still whispering to each other "remember those people? I think they were waterboarding their child a couple times a week.....think we should have called CPS?"
Swim lessons were a whole other challenge, as the whole "putting your face in the water" felt dangerously close to a bath, and well, see paragraph above. Also, it was probably useless to try to reason with him that 90% of his body is made of water, therefore a little bit of water dripping into his eyes would likely not throw the universe into a tailspin of imbalance. Live and learn.
But we stuck with it--we introduced him to goggles and after many attempts of demonstrating how they would keep water from getting into his eyes, succeeded in showing him that we could dump water on his face and his eyes would remain "dry." That revolutionized swim lessons for us & worked great until the swim teacher got all hard-line on us & told us that she "really didn't want" her students wearing goggles because of the false sense of security they provide to young swimmers. Fine, Husband & I said, you go ahead and try to get him to take the goggles off without scaring hims straight out of the water. My main goal for Ethan is to have him safe in the water--I argued that if he wasn't allowed to wear the goggles for at least a little while longer, he wasn't going to be willing to into the water & wasn't going to learn how to swim, period. I'd far prefer that if he happens to fall into a pool or other body of water without goggles, he has a momentary adjustment of realizing he's not wearing them, rather than having him sink like a stone because his swim teacher took his goggles away & he never went into the pool for lessons again. Just sayin....
As time has passed, water has become Ethan's element. With or without goggles. The pool, the shower, lakes, oceans--he's drawn to them all & fear is pretty much a thing of the past for him. We joined the local swim club this summer & the result has been exactly as I hoped it would be--Ethan's a bona fide fish. His swimming strokes aren't perfectly graceful or even really totally identifiable as anything taught in a swim lesson. But if there's water, he wants to be in it. The 15 minutes of "adult only swim" at the end of every hour is pure hell on earth for him as he watches the water in the pool go still and glassy (because there are only about 2 people swimming in the laps and the rest of the pool is empty forEVER while the life guard takes a 15 minute break. He's snorkeling, he's doing flips under water, he's diving for spiderman toys.
Earlier this week, one of Ethan's friends joined us at the pool. This friend, another almost 1st grader, is used to jumping in the 9 foot deep end of the pool. Fearlessly. Expertly. Ethan watched his friend jump in 2-3 times, plunging way down into the abyss and floating back up to the surface. And he wanted in. Nervously, but he wanted in. I stood on the edge of the concrete and told him he could if he wanted to (his friend's mom was in the pool). "Mommy, will you come in, too?"
Sigh. I. am. terrified. of. deep. water. In the summer between 1st and 2nd grade, a camp counselor became frustrated by my fear of jumping off the floating dock into the deep end of the lake & she picked me up, and threw me in. I have no memory of it other than crying, kicking my legs in the air as she picked me up and begging her not to throw me in while I dug my fingernails into her arms, hanging on for dear life. Obviously I survived. And I took swim lessons enough to know how to tread water and kick and make my arms do something that propels me forward. But jumping into water deep enough that I can't touch the ground?
Husband has taken me snorkeling twice in our relationship. Each time, the first moments in the water are some of the most terrifying of my life. Both times, I have sat at the edge of the boat steps, checking and rechecking my life vest, making sure its pumped up so much I will float almost above the water. The idea of having my lungs and the whole breathing apparatus we humans have submerged under water, where it can't function, makes my insides turn to mush and my bones ache with fear. Its irrational, I know. But I've always had it. I've never dived into a pool. I've never swum with my head under water. I've only tread water in the deep end during one session of swim lessons in 3rd grade. And I cried the entire time.
This is part of the reason it was so important to me that Ethan learn to swim and learn well. Because I have always felt that there is no way I would be able to save him from the water unless he needed help in the shallow end.
The first couple of times he thought of jumping into the arms of his friend's mom in the deep end, he looked over at me, smiling, giddy, and thrilled by how scared he felt. I was breathing deeply, and gritting my teeth into a big happy smile while my heart raced. "Catch him, catch him, catch him" was all I could think in my head. He sensed my anxiety, and hesitated several times. When he did jump, he did so with one arm out to catch the edge of the pool immediately. It wasn't very satisfying for him, because he knew I was scared.
Yesterday, we were at the pool with other friends, also looking forward to jumping into the deep end. This time, Ethan hesitated a little, but he pushed himself to do it again. He flew into the waiting arms of my friend, all skinny arms and legs, went under water with her & came up laughing. He swam to the edge, climbed out and said, "AGAIN!!!"
I watched him jump three or four more times; a couple of times he asked me to come in & I demured, "Oh, you know mommy doesn't go in the deep end, honey." He left it at that, happy to have me snapping pictures and video from the pool's edge (he's grown so used to his paparazzi). And I thought about what it would mean for us going forward if I didn't overcome my fear. No more pool frolicking with my kid? Not being able to get into the deep end with my husband and child in the years ahead of us? Jesus, I'm 40 years old. I should be able to get into the deep end of a pool without having a panic attack. My six year old can do it. His five year old friend and her three year old sister can do it. I CAN do it, I'm just always too afraid to try.
I still didn't jump. I slid. Slowly. I clung to the edge for several minutes and cheered Ethan on as he repeatedly climbed out and threw himself back in, bolder and bolder by the minute. At first he was jumping in fairly close to the edge and only having to swim back a few strokes. Within minutes, he was hucking his light little body to the middle of the deep end, sinking way down (my heart skipped several beats) and then floating back up with one arm up like Superman taking flight. Oh, my heart.
Slowly I let go of the edge and remembered how to tread water. "the edge is right there. right there," I reminded myself as I started kicking and---swimming, around the deep end. All without drowning, or even panicking.
Ethan jumped in (even gracing us with a cannonball or twelve) until "adult only swim." My friend took the kids to the kiddie pool for those fifteen minutes. And for the first time in my 40 year old life, I swam. Several laps. Again, no graceful strokes or even identifiable ones, but I inhaled, put my whole head under water (another massive fear) and managed to find my way from one side of the pool lap to the other.
I won't go into how amazing it felt to be in the water like that, without fear, feeling my entire body under the water--because my description would leave the border of corny far behind and I'd sound entirely too cheesy to tolerate (if I don't already). But suffice it to say that I'll be underwater again today.
And who knows what's next? Maybe a cannonball into the deep end?