Rookie mom tackles swim lessons

My friend Olivia reminded me today, “well, you’re always a rookie, right? Once you get through your rookie year of parenthood, you’re still a rookie with a kindergartner or teenager.” And so it was with swimming lessons.

So my four year old and I set out to discover the mysterious ways of the swimming lesson family. We learned a new vocabulary and whole cast of characters in location in the process.

I already know how to swim fast like a cheetah
I already know how to swim fast like a cheetah

Holden nearly drowned last summer at a friend’s pool with me on guard and only an arm’s distance away. How can I help him get over his (justified) fears and learn to be safe and have fun in the water?

Why now?
Earlier this month, in a last ditch effort to get Holden comfortable with the water before a vacation to visit my in-laws and their swimming pool (and their dog), I signed Holden up for 8 swimming lessons. The lessons were to be delivered Monday through Thursday for two weeks in a row at a pool that’s kind of a schlep but also well-known as the place where you take your kids when you really want them to learn how to swim.

The build-up
One week before the lessons, we took him to a beautiful local community pool so we could splash and play together. We hoped to take some of the terror out of the water experience and make him excited for lessons. Holden enjoyed the one-foot-deep water and the waterfall in the middle of the pool.

He came away from that pool saying, “I don’t need lessons, I already know how to swim.” (“Ummmm….nuh uh” I wanted to respond). Alec said that lessons would help him swim faster and better and I responded that, “you know how to play in the water but lessons will help you swim.”

FAIL.

On the day before the lessons, we went to a different swimming pool with another family. Holden’s friend, Nat, is very comfortable with the water so we hoped that would further reinforce how fun swimming is; it only kinda worked. They bounced and played together.

Holden's buddy under water
Holden's buddy under water

First few lessons
Then we went for it. I first fell in love Canyon Swim School because the kids are in the water with the teachers while the parents wait behind the fence. As I explained to Holden, I believe this really helps the parents let the kids be capable. We might be tempted to be helicopter parents, but we can’t. Everybody wins and I don’t have to change my clothes.

Day one, he was very brave and did better than I expected. He put his face in the water on purpose and blew bubbles whenever they asked. Teachers used various devices and handholds to float him across the lane of water and he obeyed. Holden was so busy absorbing the new place, new faces, and new situation that he forgot to be nervous. I voted it a huge success.

Anticipating first swim lessons
Anticipating first swim lessons

Naturally, day two was a different story entirely. He whined and fretted the whole way to the lesson that he didn’t want to participate: He hated lessons; he didn’t need lessons; he already knew how to swim fast like a cheetah; he didn’t want to get his eyes wet; and did I know that the teacher said he was a “bad kid.”

All kinds of excuses and justifications were pouring from his mouth. I tried to listen. I tried to empathize. I offered a freezey pop for a treat once he completed the lesson. He liked that solution bribe.

The whole second lesson included enough whining and tears that I could hear it from behind the fence. My safe seat 20 feet away was not safe enough to protect me from his gasps and yelps. It sucked.

Amazingly, he said it was fun.

What else is scary and fun?
We spent the long drive back home talking about things that are both scary and fun: trapeze, fast bike rides, swimming, eating ice cream (“no mommy, that’s just fun!”), and parenting.

Lessons three and four were about the same but milder. Slight dread before the lesson followed by some gulping and flailing during the lesson and a freezey pop to make it all better on the way home.

Before tucking him in at night I said, “Holden, I’m really proud of how you put your face under the water today” and he replied, “mama, you did some good things too.”

The breakthrough
I’m pleased to report that lesson five was the big breakthrough! Lesson five was all good. More fun than scary. He put his face in for the count of 10. He jumped into teachers’ arms in the deep end. He speed-walked to see me after the lesson with the hugest grin on his face. So much joy!

An audience
Holden was clearly proud of his accomplishments and enjoying being in the water; he asked that I bring Milo the next day so he could watch. Milo and I ate snacks and tried to keep an eye on him in the pool so we could tell Holden that we saw him do great things. I said, “I saw you hold your face in the water for the count of FIVE” and Holden would say, “no mommy, it was TEN.”

Holden ate his freezey pop while I distracted Milo with almonds.

On Wednesday, he asked that the whole family watch his lesson. We were remarkably able to accommodate his request, so we did.

The finale
Yesterday afternoon was the last class. Funnily enough, we got to the pool moments before class only to discover that Holden’s swimsuit and towel were missing from the car (Daddy had helped us out the day before by unpacking them).

In a quick flash of SuperMom brilliance, I bought Holden a very large swim diaper and convinced him it was a speedo that would help him swim super-fast. He went for it. Sometimes four year-olds really are awesome.

Holden in his speedo, arms out for floating
Holden in his speedo, arms out for floating

Though he didn’t graduate to the next level of lessons, I feel very relieved that the swim lessons did their part in helping Holden to be safer and more confident in the water.

They also served to teach me how to be swim-lesson-mom. I deserve a merit badge for that. Or a freezey pop at least.

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RookieMoms co-founder & mom to 3 boys in Berkeley, CA. Bossy big sister and project manager turned blogger helping moms enjoy their first years of motherhood. Find me on my other site on 510families.com or hiding in my minivan eating dark chocolate.