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School’s not the only thing on hiatus these days: Simon wrapped up his swimming lessons about two weeks ago, too. The way it happened was sudden and unexpected, and highlighted to me that some parenting calls are tough and that five-year-olds are still very young.

It all started about six weeks ago. Having demonstrated a mature back-stroke and a rudimentary freestyle stroke, Simon got promoted to the fifth and penultimate level of his swimming program. As a Freestyler, he’d don a red cap, learn starts and dives, develop a mature back-stroke and freestyle stroke, and begin working on his breaststroke and butterfly.

We had one good lesson, and then on the second Simon gulped down water during his freestyle exercises and never fully recovered; the remainder of his class-time was punctuated by frequent spells of sputtering and crying. The next week, Simon fell apart an hour before his swim lesson and claimed to be too tired to go. Once I rescheduled for a weekend, he miraculously recovered his energy and asked to go play soccer.

This suspiciously timed fatigue recurred the next two weeks. Even when we focused on backstroke to take the pressure off, he was still hesitant about going to his classes and spent a lot of time negotiating with his teacher about what he was going to do in the pool. I hated to see him psych himself out of something he could do and seemed to enjoy. How could he let one bad day rewrite 10 months of hard work and success?

It didn’t seem right. So I encouraged, consoled, badgered, and pushed. He couldn’t give up now! Not when he was so close to swimming actual freestyle laps. Wouldn’t quitting now be a huge backward step? Maybe. But 12 days ago, when Simon broke down an hour before swimming again and cried in the car on the way to the lesson, I realized that backward step or no, there was no pushing through his fear and fatigue.

After nearly 10 months of weekly lessons, Simon went from being a kid who hadn’t been in the pool for over a year to one who could jump in, float on his own, swim from end of the pool to the other, dive down for toys, and come back up on his own. And now he was tired, scared to put his face back in the water for freestyling, and ready for a break from the pressure. When I pulled into the JCC parking lot 12 days ago, I still wasn’t sure if quitting—or taking a break—was the right thing to do. By the time Simon dragged himself to the pool deck, every inch an effort and exercise in negotiation, I finally understood how young five is, how much I had asked of him, and how hard he has pushed himself.

I asked the program director to credit my account and make that Wednesday our last lesson, and I told Simon’s teacher Julie to just let Simon have fun and do whatever he wanted. For the next thirty minutes, Simon monkey-crawled along the pool edge, jumped in alone and alongside Julie, kicked around, practiced diving, and did his first ever racing start. He was all smiles the whole time, and when it was over he promised Julie he’d be back in July or August, once he had rested and was ready to get going again.

I don’t know if we’ll be back that soon or not, but when saw the happiness and relief on his face, I did finally trust that I had made the right call.

One Response to “Freestyling”

  1. blg says:

    You have good instincts, Jess.

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