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Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.  ~John Wayne

Or, in Simon’s case, being scared to death and jumping in the pool anyway. As Simon progresses through the skills in his swimming class, only two items remain before he advances to the next level*: (1) rolling over from his front to his back unassisted and (2) jumping in the pool and then floating on his back unassisted.

Today was the day we were going to work on these last two items, but not before a drill on his unsinkable back float, an exercise in which Simon floats on his back—and, crucially, stays floating—while the instructor splashes his face, makes huge waves in the pool, and yanks on arms and legs. Simon did this on Wednesday with no problems at all, but today, for reasons unknown, buckled under the pressure, sat up in alarm, and promptly sank underwater. At which point he wailed in some combination of fear and disappointment. While Blair consoled him in the water, a second instructor whispered in my ear:

“Uh oh. He’s such a perfectionist that this is going to freak him out for the whole rest of the lesson.”

Those were the words of wisdom of Julie, a 17-year-old swim instructor who has the insight and maturity to glean this about my son based on three 30-minute lessons.  She was right, too. Simon got cold despite his wet-suit, a reaction to fear I’m sure. He rallied for the middle of his lesson, a review of skills he’s got down cold, but then grew apprehensive at the notion of jumping in the pool and not being caught.

“Will Ms. Blair catch me?”

“If she needs to. But first try to roll over and float on your back.”

“I don’t think I can do that.”

You’ll never know until you try. If you can’t, I’ll be proud of you for trying. And if you can, well, that would just be icing on the cake.”

“I can’t do it.”

“Simon, honey, the only way to learn is to try. It doesn’t matter if you can do it or not. You just have to try, and Ms. Blair will be right there to help you. We’re not going to let anything happen to you.”

He still wasn’t convinced. So Ms. Julie hopped in, putting the lifeguard-to-child ratio at an amazingly safe 2:1. He hemmed. He hawed. He shook from cold and fear. And finally, after what seemed like an hour of agonizing wait-time, he counted down from three, jumped in, …

… rolled over, and floated on his back. All with just the teeniest bit of help from Ms. Julie, who nudged him along on his roll. There were hugs and cheers and high-fives. Later, in the car, I asked him:

“Simon, what am I the most proud of you for today? Is it that you jumped in and floated?”

“No, Mommy, it’s that I tried.”

Actually,  it’s that he understands enough of what I’m telling him to say that without my providing the answer for him.

*Lest I sound like a Tiger Mother here, the reason I am eager to have him advance is two-fold: (1) I want him to get the feeling of reward that comes from graduating to the next level; (2) He’s so close that part of his current lessons are repetitive and boring; he’s ready for a lot of what they do in the next level, and he’ll have fun with it.

2 Responses to “Courage”

  1. Amanda says:

    You are not at ALL a Tiger Mother. Simon is learning one of the big lessons that we all need to learn–we have to try. Even if we don’t succeed, we have to try. Or we never will succeed.

  2. blg says:

    And, of course, these are really important skills to have…you need to know that he is safe around water. Whether or not he develops an elegant crawl stroke is not important. That he is comfortable in the water and can help himself in case of a surprise is essential.

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