#6: Learning to swim

Teaching a child to swim is no small feat. But the moment your child first lets go of you in the water and sets sail on his or her own makes for pure pride.

photo courtesy of Andrea Mulder Slater

Inside, the water is warm and the air is humid, while outside, the ground is frozen and snowflakes are swirling. It’s wintertime and my 3-year-old daughter and I have just stepped into the indoor pool at our family’s favourite weekend getaway hotel. We hold onto each other as we bounce up and down in the crystal clear water. Splash, splash, splash.

It’s a ritual we¹ve been performing since she was a baby.

As an infant, my girl would sit with her dad or nana at the edge of our backyard pool, while I swam up and gently trickled water onto her knees. It wasn’t long before she “took the plunge”, happily kicking her chubby little legs while I hugged her close in the water. Floating in an inflatable turtle was tolerated, but only for brief periods as her preferred position was always in my arms.

As a toddler, my kiddo enjoyed being in the water more than ever, and as long as I was holding her, she was confidence personified. She playfully wiggled her body and repeatedly asked me to hoist her up and back down into the water again and again (and again). But whenever I suggested she “set sail” on her own, she would freeze up, and if not for her cumbersome lifejacket, she would have sunk like a stone.

The thing is, my daughter is a naturally cautious, old-soul of a kid who always makes certain the ground she¹s walking on is firm and the playground ladder she¹s climbing has a solid railing. Evidently, the idea of being free in a big wet abyss was not of immediate interest to her. The casual mention of swimming lessons sent her into a panic. So instead, we decided to continue as we were, trusting she would figure things out, at her own pace.

Back in the hotel pool, the littlest one surprises me by saying, “I’d like to swim by myself mommy.” I crouch low in the water, look into her bright brown eyes, place her hands on mine and say, “Okay, now you¹re holding me. I won¹t let go of you, but you can let go of me, when you’re ready.”

Her inner tube/water wing ensemble has her floating stick straight: head up, feet down. Her still chubby fingers clench onto my thumbs as she watches me carefully. She lets go ­ with one hand ­ and quickly grabs hold again. I smile and say, “It’s okay. I’m right here.”

She tries again, removing one hand, and then the other. By the time she realizes I¹m no longer holding on, her feet are propelling her away from me. I swim towards her as she allows her body to flatten out ­ while keeping her face above the water. She is on  her tummy. Her arms are paddling. Her legs are kicking.

She is swimming.

Then, the moment of realization hits and she shouts, “I’m doing it mommy! I’m doing it!”

I’m holding back tears of joy as she and I swim from one end of the pool to the other. We do this until our bellies ache from laughter and our arms and legs can no longer move.

As we climb out of the pool and into our towels, I tell my daughter how proud I am of her. She gives me a big, wet hug and says, “Thank you mommy. Thank you for teaching me to swim.”

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