Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Learning to Swim

I"m reading Anna Quindlen's memoir, Plenty of Cake, Lots of Candles, a series of reflections on what she's learned over the thirty years since she began her New Yurk Times column on life in your thirties. In a chapter on parenting, she decries the tendency of today's mothers to micromanage their children's lives, never allowing them to experience failure or disappointment which, she suggests, makes them ill-prepared to face life in the real world. It doesn't allow them to possess their own triumphs--or failures.
Reading that I thought of Jacob and the swimming pool. He has hated water--even at his own birthday parties, he would dabble his feet at the edge of the pool while his cousins swam and frolicked. This spring he said to me, "My daddy says I have to learn the water, but I'm not going to." Then his summer day care program put a life jacket on him and as he told his father, he "lost the fear."
This weekend at his cousin's eighth birthday party, I saw him standing at the edge of the pool, watching the "big" kids swim freely. I surmised he was too embarrassed to put on a life jacket when all those older kids were strong swimmers. Later when I looked, he was sitting alone in the hot tub shallow portion, looking fairly lonely and forlorn. But then for some reason he put on the life jacket and joined the fray. We couldn't get him out of the pool the rest of the weekend. In the middle of the deep end? Not a problem--he just dog paddled wherever he wanted to go and shouted, "Look, Juju, I"m swimming." We could have rescued him, pitied him, etc. but we didn't, and he figured it out on his own.
Quindlen claims to have raised three perfectly fine adults without planning every minute of their existence, a sentiment that echoes my own. I was the single parent of four children and getting them to school, Scouts, etc., was all I could manage. Who thought about play dates? I remember once the mother of one of Megan's friends called to ask if Megan was free a week from Thursday. How the heck did I know? Quindlen had three children so she'd never have to play board games; worked pretty much the same way for me. Once, looking for a pre-school for Meg (her birthday just missed the cutoff date for the TCU school Colin attended), I went to one where they believed in free play--it was pandemonium and I decided she got plenty of that at home.
Like Quindlen, I have wonderful adult children--they are close to each other and all of them seem to love me. They are contributing citizens with good jobs, and best of all, they're great parents.  I always thought it was sheer damn good luck. Now I wonder if it was benign neglect. Whatever, they survived and so did I--without many play dates!


Anonymous said...

I’m glad Jacob has taken to the water; its so much fun and it always leave kids exhausted (i.e. ready for nap time). I have this “trick” I use as it concerns swimming; in the pool, no safety vest (it’s a controlled environment) therefore if they error or misjudge they will feel the sensation that comes with getting over your head (fear or respect of water is a good thing); however at lakes, rivers and the sea I always have them wear a safety vest. Too many variables exist in those bodies of water that I do not want to take a chance with.

You may want to try on of these on Jacob, they’re sold at Academy and come decorated with different characters, it looks like a swimsuit, that way he will not be embarrassed to wear it. This one is just an example, Academy sales some emblazoned with Ironman, Batman or other characters.


Judy Alter said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I did worry about overconfidence. His mother says he went in once without the jacket, sank, but right back up and, I guess, dog paddled to shore. He is scheduled for swim lessons soon.