Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Sentenced to Swimming Lessons

It is that time of year again, when the weather becomes "swimming weather" that we must turn our attention to Swimming Lessons. It is my parental duty to ensure the children have sufficient swimming and floating skills to survive an accidental fall into a pool. There are so many pools and lakes in Florida they are about as hard to avoid as post-winter potholes in Buffalo. So the 3-year-old was scheduled for his first "refesher" lesson on Monday. I did not mention the lesson to him. I figured that would create a level of strife that I did not want to witness until the last possible moment. The 3-year-old does not like the swimming lessons. They make him angry. He has a firm memory of it from last spring. It involved him going into a pool against his wishes and without written consent. He has residual anger over it (along with swimming and floating skills), so we try not to bring up the topic over the winter. Now it was time to resume the lessons. Fortunately my parents were here over the weekend, along with my sister, so on Monday they were available to go with us. As the time for the lesson approached, I sneaked up on the 3-year-old and began changing him out of his superhero pajamas. As I started applying the swim trunks to his body, he turned his full attention to the swimwear. "What is THIS?" he said suspiciously. "We're just getting dressed," I said. He wasn't buying it. "These are MY TRUNKS!" he said in an accusing tone. "Yes." I was still trying to get them over his increasingly uncooperative ankles. "We're wearing trunks today." Well. We have a pool out back. There was no reason for him to believe I was going to secretly whisk him away to a Dreaded Swimming Lesson, except for the fact that I did the exact same thing last year at this time. Did he remember? Did he overhear me making arrangements with "Miss Daisy," his swim instructor, over the phone? Did he hear me whisper about it to my mother? Was it the Extra Sensory Toddler Perception that told him? Was I applying the trunks in a sheepishly guilty manner? Regardless. He knew. And he wasn't going to go quietly. He doesn't do much quietly, anyway, so this was no exception. I discovered he had somehow grown much stronger than last year, when I was usually able to get the trunks completely on within 45 seconds. Now I called for reinforcements. My sister Katie came to my aid. I held the upper torso. "Just get his legs into the trunks," I told her. Haha. Just. There's that deceptive little word that implies "it can be done without restraints or sedatives." Within 20 more seconds we were calling for my mother. Somehow he was able to turn his entire body into a completely rigid popsicle-like posture where I couldn't even get his legs apart. (We lost our grip on the ankles a while ago.) Somehow he was becoming LESS clothed the longer we were at it. My mother came and focused on getting just one ankle into the trunks. My sister was in charge of making sure the trunks did not come off again once we had made some progress. I still had the torso. Which was attached to the angry and complaining head. After the trunks were applied, I still had to get him into the car seat. Have you ever tried to buckle something as stiff as a large (and angry) popsicle into a car seat? This also was a multiple person operation. Finally he was buckled in and somewhat lubricated, due to the very angry tears. "I don't WANT to go to swimming lessons. I don't LIKE Miss Daisy. I don't WANT to go to her pool. I don't LIKE getting my face wet." The complaints were more articulate and descriptive this year. Last year it was mostly wailing. In all the excitement at getting out of the house on time, somehow we forgot the bag that had the towel in it. I almost turned around and went back, but we would be late. This class is run on a strict schedule, 10 minutes per student per day. If we were five minutes late we'd miss half our session. I debated what I had in the van to dry him with. Tissues? Old magazines? A baseball hat? We passed a thrift shop on the way to the pool. Did thrift shops sell towels, I wondered? My mother suggested I just use my sweatshirt turned inside out. It was sort of fluffy. And 3-year-old bodies aren't all that big. When we got to the lesson, Miss Daisy was happy to see him. Perhaps over the winter she had time to purge the memory of him socking her in the jaw last year. He was not happy to see her. I had to peel him off my body in order to hand him off to her. The session was not poetic. There was crying. Moaning. Thrashing. Arguing. (He used his more articulate powers to explain that the water was "too deep for babies," and that he didn't want to come here any more, and that the lesson was over.) He sputtered. Swallowed water. Wanted to leave the pool now. Wanted to go home immediately. Gave her these explanations repeatedly each time his head came out of the water. In spite of the strife, he seemed to remember some of his skills from last year. They were a little rusty, but he hadn't socked his teacher, so we all praised him for doing a good job. "Pools aren't for babies," he told us. "They're for BROTHERS." (Meaning the 5-year-old.) "I won't go back there." "We don't have to go back," I agreed. "Until tomorrow." Haha. I wondered how I would get the trunks on his body the next day, as my parents and sister were leaving. Well the following day he knew the lesson was imminent. The 5-year-old was home from school for a dental appointment, and had reminded him. This created an early morning funk. "The pool is too DEEP," he muttered repeatedly. "It's NOT for babies!" When I brought him the trunks this time his face crinkled with anger. Then, it happened. He threw some kind of switch in his brain. He decided to cooperate. Why? I don't know. It's possible that he knew from experience that we ended up at the lesson anyway, no matter how much he protested it. Or maybe he decided it would be easier to take if he could persuade himself he liked it. I honestly can't explain it. But I saw the switch being thrown, because I literally saw his face change. "I'm NOT afraid," he announced. "I'm going to Miss Daisy's pool." I quickly put his trunks on before he could change his mind. "BUT..." he continued. "I DON'T want to get my face wet." Well, no promises there. It's hard to learn to swim without getting your face wet. He sat on my lap while we waited for the baby ahead of us to finish her lesson. She was only 14 months old and had very powerful lungs. She screamed the whole time. The 3-year-old covered his ears with his hands and said, "That baby is TOO LOUD." When it was his turn, he walked right over to Miss Daisy. She was surprised to see him in a cooperative mode. But still with a certain degree of ambivalence, as he clung to a hand rail before she could take him out to deeper water. She had to pry him arms off. "I'm not afraid of the pool," he told her. "But I don't want to get my face WET." Then he went under. He was not happy, but his swimming and floating performance was much better. While I remembered the towel this time, I forgot his change of clothes. So I had to carry him to the car wearing a pajama top and Clifford underwear. Today, Day 3, was even more remarkable. "I'm not afraid of the pool," he assured me. "I'm just going to look at Miss Daisy's face!" Today he swam halfway across the pool, and did three unaided floats. He was able to pull himself up on the side, kick off, and swim to Miss Daisy in the middle. He looked like a Champion Swimmer and Floater. I would like to give myself some type of credit but I can't. He did it all himself. From the first angry day, to today's triumphant, "I DID it!" I am not sure how anything that parents do works. All I know is that sometimes it does. I think perhaps they just raise themselves, and we are just there to record it all on film or anecdote, and occasionally consult a manual if someone gets constipated. I don't know. Maybe I am not raising two boys. Maybe they are raising two parents. I mean that in the sense that we could never become functional parents without the assistance of two little handsomes to practice on. Parents shouldn't take too much credit or accept too much blame.

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