Sunday, April 11, 2010

In At The Deep End

How did you learn to swim? Swimming classes? Individual swimming coach? Thrown into a disused quarry? I can't remember how and when I learned. I remember Saturday mornings at the 'baths' and doing my 100m swimming badge, my silver lifesaver in pyjamas. I remember armbands but not them being taken away. I'm sure it was a traumatic experience for both me and my parents.

I am not a fish in the water, more like a tin of tuna. It took me three triathlons before I would even consider doing anything but the breaststroke. Unfortunately Anna has taken after me in this respect.

We have free access to a gorgeous, mostly empty outdoor pool (Anna thinks England is hil-arious because they have swimming pools in houses....). We go there almost every week and Anna is finally learning to swim. I know there are plenty of 4 year-olds out there who don't know their butterfly from their dolphin crawl but with so much exposure to the water you would have thought....

Except it was the exposure to the water that was always the problem. She hates water in her face. If she gets splashed in the bath she will scream 'I need the big towel!!'. Apparently some people have a more sensitive 'drowning reflex' than others, and Anna seems to have inherited mine. Lucy on the other hand is part eel and at a lowly 6 weeks old LK was whispering 'are you going to be my surfer?' as she sat in the sink - reveling in the water and not caring in the slightest if her face was wet.

Interestingly, Anna loves being in the pool - on the proviso that her arm bands are heavily inflated and she is 60% out of the water at all times. If you've ever seen my Mum execute the 'ladies dry-hair butterfly' at the local swimming baths you will know that this is a genetic trait. We had a pool party for her 4th birthday, and some of the kids could swim and some still had floaties. It's not an issue of her being 'behind', I just long for the days when I can lie by the pool with a beer and a good book while the girls splash happily and independently in front of me. For that elusive goal of some 'me time' (I'm writing this at 3am) we had to take action.

We had heard that it's hard for parents to teach their kids to swim and that was certainly the case for us. We tried treats and rewards, slow deflation of her arm bands (this left her partially submerged and worried, like an anxious hippo), good old encouragement, and threats that her sister would learn before she would. Nothing worked. After over 4 years we had managed a couple of seconds with her face in the water in exchange for a barbie. At that rate she would have us bankrupt before she learned the crawl.

She is cautious by nature and it is very hard to get her to do something she's scared of. She hates; crowds, loud noises, water in her face, waves, large men, performing in public, new get the picture. We hired a pro. Before the lesson we outlined our hopes and concerns. "Well, how is she in the bath?" asked the teacher "I need the big towel!" we replied. "The shower?", "bottom water only - no shower head Mumma".

"I see" said Sarah.

Anna had her second lesson yesterday and she is already swimming several strokes of the doggy paddle underwater. Completely submerged except for her flower-clad bottom. You could have knocked me over with a feather - except I was too busy trying to stop Lucy from hurtling fully-clothed in to the deep end - that child is fearless. How can they be so different?

Anna even begged for more time. Goggles have certainly helped (thanks Lorna!!) but the key has been her instant bond with her teacher and the fact that the excitement over learning to swim and her desire to please are greater than her fear. She can do breaststroke kicks (frog kicks), the crawl (scooping ice cream) and mini-dives (humpty-dumpty).

Someone order me a pool-side cocktail, I think this is going to be a good summer.


Almost American said...

Sounds like you found a wonderful teacher!
My daughter was SO close to being able to swim for the longest time, and then she went to Girl Scout day camp for a week, with pool time every day. By the end of the week she was like a fish. I guess she just needed time in the water without me, because I'd been taking her to the pool every day.

seadragon said...

That is fantastic!! Glad it went so, uh, swimmingly. :)

Nimble said...

Good for Anna! I remember learning around age 5 in a Oceanside suburban backyard pool. Must have been a home business. I remember the weighted hula hoops we swam through. It was fun even though I was so buoyant I had a hard time getting my little hiney under the water.

Anonymous said...

Loving the "ladies dry-hair butterfly" S xx

rachel... said...

Oh man, I took swimming lessons for probably 3 summers in a row, and I still can only dog-paddle!

My 3 older kids are competant *enough* in the pool, but my toddler is so wild, I can't imagine getting one second of relaxation poolside this summer!

Your girls are adorable!

Heather said...

I just happened across your blog, and it's like I'm reading about my own daughter, who is almost 3. She stays on the steps in the swimming pool at all times, and if even one drop of water touches her face she will promptly climb out of the pool and get her towel to dry her face. And don't even think about getting her hair wet -- that's begging for trouble.