I Always Feel Like... Somebody's Watching Me!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Swimming at the YMCA (and everywhere else)

This week marked the end of YMCA swim classes for Ayla and Jackson. We'll have to take a little break before starting up again, since the next session would be inevitably interrupted by the birth of their new sibling.

Our YMCA (and it may be the same everywhere else) designates levels with a different type of fish. Babies start out as Shrimp/Kippers, grow up to be Inia and Perch and graduate at a shark level. You become so good at swimming that you are a predator! Or something like that.

Jackson is still at the age of parent/child classes, so I enjoyed getting into the water with him every week. Until these classes, he was a total wimp about the water. Maybe it was just bad timing on our parts, but our previous trips to hotel swimming pools or the beach were quite unsuccessful. He has stood on the side of the pool crying until taken back to cozy hotel rooms and tested the ocean water with one toe and run in the other direction. Last year's beach vacation for him meant lounging in a chair instead of jumping over waves.

Now he is water-crazy. Perhaps it's the laid back approach of just getting into the pool and distracting the 2 year olds with songs. We do the hokey pokey and sing ten rounds of "The Wheels on the Bus". If you can get over the embarrassment of singing in public, it's actually fun. He blows bubbles like a champ, jumps into the water with abandon and LOVES going under water with people and waving at them.

Ayla took her first class without a parent in the pool. The kids are taught to wait patiently on the side of the pool until they can practice swimming alongside the instructor one on one. Dog-paddle (or "ice cream scoops") and kicking backwards.

Jumping into the water was a big highlight, which is something that the girl has NO fear of. We were trying to reiterate in class AND at the beach that she had to let someone know she was ready to jump on their heads... because she wasn't waiting for the signal! The funny thing about Ayla is that she yells and screams while she is swimming. If you weren't looking, you would think she was drowning. She is just kicking along, huge smile on her face, but screaming like she is terrified.

I've been talking with a lot of friends about our memories of learning to swim. Does anyone remember being afraid of the water and then conquering that fear? Did you have a terrible or amazing instructor? I can't imagine not knowing how to swim. I took swim lessons early and often; having some teachers that were tough. One particular lady would yell that we had to keep our eyes open when jumping from the side of the pool... because she didn't want us fearful of what was going to happen. It worked for me, but I'm sure for some kids that was a little traumatizing. But much of my confidence in the water was built early in a class and then confirmed by hours upon hours of screwing around at the pool with my friends. It was there, at the public pool, that I learned handstands and how to blow bubbles out of my nose when I flipped. We would hold our breath under water with stopwatches to see who could last the longest. We had tea parties in the shallow end and played sharks and minnows in the deep end.

We have to find that balance between healthy fear of the water and confidence that we know how to swim through it. There was one scary moment at the beach that Ayla was suddenly struggling below the water without any sort of flotation, simply because she hadn't considered that possibility when letting go of her raft. She thought she could swim to Gregory only a few feet away, but found herself sinking while kicking her legs instead. (That's an image that is permanently burned into my nightmare file... seeing her poor little face so scared underwater.) To keep tabs on a toddler in even an uncrowded pool is hard - so we felt safe with the permanent rule of wearing swimmies on her arms.

Our kids have to acknowledge limits in the water but not let it be a concern at the same time. It seems like such a fragile thing to establish. I'm hoping that getting them in the water during their ages of no-fear attitudes will do most of the work for us. Once they realize how deep the ocean (or deep end) really is, they'll already know how to swim through it.


  1. I clearly remember being terrified of the water - and strangers - when I was taken to the YMCA that first time. The instructor reached through my fear by asking me to imagine him as my favorite stuffed animal ("Daddy Bear" at the time, a huge brown overloved teddy bear)and hold onto him tight just like I'd hug it. Boy, did that work! I remember all of my swim instructors very fondly. I think they had different names for some of the levels then? I remember being a guppie... I flourished in the water. We got our pool a few years later and I spent summers from Memorial Day to Labor day, every day, in that pool. And I miss having one every summer now!

  2. It's just called the "Y" now.