This spring, I asked O what he’d like to do this spring—play T-ball, soccer, or take swimming lessons. Hands down, the winner was swimming lessons. “SWIM-ming les-SONS! SWIM-ming les-SONS!” became the cry around the house in the weeks leading up to the first class. O and I took lessons together last spring, and he loved them. Never afraid, he went underwater, slid down the slide, blew bubbles–whatever they asked, he did. He was a veritable star of the class.

That said, I was with him in the water during that class, and with these new classes he’d be on his own. I prepped him for the change, and he seemed fine with it. The morning of his first class he ran over to me after as soon as he woke up.

“Mom, MOM, guess what?” he said.

“What?” I replied.

“I’m going to take SWIMMING lessons today!” he said excitedly. But I have some bad news for you.

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“Weeellllllll. You can’t go in the water with me this time, he stated solemnly. I have to go with the teachers all by myself.”

C’mon, how cute is that?

Later that day, he was jumping up and down with excitement on the side of the pool. The lifeguard remarked that she had never seen a child so excited about swimming lessons. She also warned me the teachers were a little “tough.” Hmmm.

The teachers walked in and the atmosphere completely changed. They lined up all the kids on the side of the pool and asked them to get in the water and hold on to the bar that runs around the inside of the pool. (I don’t know what it’s called.) One by one, the teachers took the kids back and forth across the pool, asking them to kick, etc., while the rest of the kids clung to the bar. At times, the teachers would stop what they were doing and bark orders. Some kids were crying, some were chilling, some were screaming, others were swimming laps back and forth on their own. I started to get annoyed at the chaos.

O looked a little shell-shocked at first, then bewildered, then angry, and then he started to cry. At some point, one of teachers yelled at all the parents to out of the pool area and go up into the viewing room. As the parents filed up into the tiny room and tried to crowd around the glass, a more “seasoned” mom started telling the others how her child used to cry, but is now a great swimmer blah blah blah. I just stood, staring at O, wishing someone would show him how to hang on the bar so he wasn’t hoisting himself half out of the water and resting his chin on the side of the pool. When it was time for the kids to get out and jump back in—O firmly planted himself far, far away from the lip of the pool. A lifeguard had to come over, walk him to the edge, and throw him in.

At the end of the lesson my nerves were shot, and my kid hated swimming. Awesome.

I was pissed–and conflicted. I could see how this tough love method could work (sort of) for kids that wouldn’t get near a pool—when they’re 15. But O was excited and happy to be going to swimming lessons—and he’s three-and-a-half. Now, NOW he was afraid and didn’t ever want to go back. Except—did he? When some friends asked about his lessons, he said he liked it, he was learning to swim, and he showed them how he paddled and kicked.

Still, I called and tried to get him into different lessons at a different time, but all the classes were full. Then I left messages about private lessons, but no one ever got back to me. I decided to stick with it against my better judgment. Tough love isn’t really my style. And I really don’t enjoy seeing my kid cry from afar and not be able to do anything about it–I had enough of that from all those daycare dropoffs.

On the morning of the next class, he woke up saying he didn’t want to go—I was able to get him there with the promise of a toy afterward (A bribe, terrible mom, I know). He cried most of the time, but something kind of amazing happened. The teacher let him go, and he actually swam for about two feet on his own, although he didn’t look too happy about it. This past Thursday, I picked him up from school where his first words were “I don’t want to go to swimming lessons.” The teacher told me he was talking about how he didn’t want to go all day. I told him we could go to the zoo afterward, and he was on board. (I know, I KNOW!) He cried and fussed for a few minutes as we walked into the pool, begging me not to make him go—my heart was breaking, and my head was drowning in second thoughts. But this time he stopped crying after about three minutes, and this time he jumped in on his own—twice. Afterward, when I went down to get him, he was SO proud of himself. And when the teacher paid him a compliment, he broke out into the BIGGEST grin you could imagine. He even mentioned he was looking forward to the next class. Say what?

We had to miss the latest class because he was sick, so I wonder what Thursday will bring. I think I’ll continue to push him to go—if only because I don’t want him to develop a fear of water at this point. This latest lesson in parenting has been an interesting one for me. I just hope the outcome is a good one…

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