A few weeks ago, I started Lucia in a new swimming class. My family is going to Hawaii in December, and I wanted to get Lucia a final few lessons to prepare her for the ocean. Lucia can definitely swim, but she lacks confidence. She will only go in the shallow end and, even when she doesn't need to, she stops mid-way through to settle her toes on the pool bottom. I called around for private lessons thinking that would be the most efficient way to get her proficient in six weeks. Private lessons are not only expensive, but I was struggling to coordinate a time that worked with a busy eight-year-old's schedule.
I finally decided to just enroll her in the community pool's group lessons. Lucia was totally bummed. New place, new kids, new teachers. That's so not her style. As she changed and showered in the frigid, prison-like dressing room, shivering and shooting me a major stink-eye, she said, "Mommy, swimming is my least favorite sport." Lucia knows that I was a competitive swimmer for thirteen years. She knows I love swimming. "Soccer is my favorite sport" she snarled, "and swimming is my least!" (Soccer, mind you, before she started, also occupied the ranks of most-hated sports.)
When we got into the pool area, Lucia was pleased to see a classmate. They stood, purple-lipped, shivering in wait for their teacher. Lucia had missed the first week so the pool manager guided her to beginners. Lucia was visibly pissed to learn that her classmate was intermediate. "Jump in!" Lucia's beginner teacher instructed her group. Lucia looked back at me with what I assume was an imploring stare, but I averted my eyes so she couldn't make contact with me. She jumped in. There were 21 kids in this class! No private lesson here. They separated the kids into three groups, with three teachers, each on a different wall of the pool. I watched the beginners teacher ask Lucia to swim a little bit to assess her skill level. Lucia, like a kid in an episode of Scared Straight, did as she was told. The teacher saw that she had above-beginner skills and promptly sent her into the deep-end to the advanced class. I imagine this over-burdened beginners teacher was thrilled to be responsible for one less swimmer-in-training.
Every time Lucia looked my way, I put my head down as if captivated by my book. When it was safe again, I'd look up and see her swimming. She, along with the ten other kids in her group, were swimming laps! Back and forth. No tippy-toes touching the ground. The girl could swim! I giggled the entire lesson thinking to myself, "This child has been holding out on me for months! She's actually a good swimmer." Lucia, competitive by nature, and a bit of a perfectionist, would not be out-shown by these other kids. When the teacher yelled "Backstroke" she did it. When he shouted, "kick more!" she damn well did it.
I don't think Lucia was actually tricking me. I think her mind was tricking her. Lucia needed someone to push her over her mental hump. She needed a fresh environment. Her previous lessons, where teachers indulged her anxieties, weren't helping. She needed someone to ignore her anxieties and look at her potential.
After Lucia's first lesson, she emerged, blue lipped and frozen, with a beaming smile. The proud look on her face is one that I will never forget. As I stood holding Lucia's towel while she shampooed her hair in the warm shower, she said through chattering teeth, "Mommy, swimming is my new favorite sport."
Here's to just jumping in!