Smile and Encourage


Dear Courtney,

This summer is the summer of swimming for Ms. Bugaboo.  She’s loves the water but isn’t overly confident in her abilities, so getting her to try swimming on her own has been, well, a challenge.  Our family goes swimming a lot, so she’s in the water often, but she would MUCH rather wear a life vest and play than practice her strokes. So we decided to outsource the teaching; she’s taking daily swim lessons most of the summer.  

I have to say, I love swim lessons.  For 30 minutes every day Bug is fully occupied in an activity she loves; Guy is usually asleep in his stroller, and I, well I’m comfortably reclined in a deck chair.  GLORIOUS! 

My favorite chair is directly in across from the pool’s stairs.  I like it because the little little’s have their swim class on the steps.  They’re so cute with their pudgy legs and baby belly’s  poking out.  I love to watch them splash and jump and carry on. 

This week one kiddo in particular caught my attention.  Based on his size and behavior I guess him to be about two and a half.  He’s beyond darling with a rag mop of ginger hair and big pale eyes.  But he is ornery!  Stubborn to his core– at least about swimming. 

He will not, under any circumstances, get in the water.  He won’t even get close.  He doesn’t appear to be frightened (though I can’t be sure), just willful.  Every day his mother, a little baby strapped to her chest, sits down at the edge of the pool and calmly tries to coax him in.  And every day he refuses. He sits on the deck, just behind her, and shakes his head, no.  Sometimes he gets up and wonders off, sometimes even to the edge of the pool (though not the stairs where the class is), and his mother gets up and quietly leads him back.

I’ve heard her talk to him, she has a soft, calm voice; it is firm but gentle.  “No, that is not okay.  You may not do that.   We’re here for swim lessons.  This is where the swim lessons are,” She’ll say, sitting him back down before the steps. “If you’re not going to get in the water then you have to sit here.”

She matches his stubbornness, step for step, with patience. 

I’ve wondered how long this standoff would last, watching to see who would back down first.  Today was day four, and it was still going strong.  If it were me, one of two things would have happened by now, either I would have picked him up and put him in the water (probably in anger and frustration), or I would have stopped coming.  

Today he was especially ornery, repeatedly getting up and trying to get away from her.  And he didn’t just get up and wonder off like before, he got up and darted off.  Fast.  Frankly I was ready to strangle him for her.  One of those times, as she pulled herself up to follow him, I noticed her close her eyes tight and take a deep breath.  I recognized the action, she was pulling deep from her reservoir of patience.   Then she glanced around, I could tell she was looking to see if anyone was watching; she caught my stare and gave me a embarrassed smile.

Finally, finally, at the very end for his fourth class, she got him to put his feet in.  I wanted to cheer for her! 

I’ll be honest and say I don’t think I’d handle her situation the same way.  I think if he were my son I would have dealt with him differently, and it could be easy for me to judge her and her methods–  except that I also really, really admire her.  She has a capacity for patience that isn’t even in my vocabulary. 

For four days I’ve watched her and thought, “why doesn’t she just…” and “you know what she should do is…”, but in reality, regardless of whether she’s doing it “right” or “wrong”, she’s demonstrates a type of calm in the midst of stress that I only dream about.  I can’t imagine how much easier my life would be if I had just a little bit of what she has.

That said, today it seemed like she was feeling a bit self conscience about the whole thing, so I decided to do something I’ve never done before.  I decided to tell her exactly what I was thinking.  As the kids got out of the pool I said, “I’ve been watching you all week, and I have to say I really admire your patience with him.  I would have thrown him in a long time ago.  He’s lucky to have a mom who doesn’t get frustrated easily.”  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you her eyes welled up with tears. She put her hand over her heart and said, “Trust me, I want to throw him in too.  Thanks for saying that.  I really don’t know if I’m doing the right things,” her voice trailed off and then she said, “Just thanks, it means a lot that you said that.  It made my day”

I walked away feeling good too.  Judgment is easy; it is so easy to look at someone else’s parenting and think of all the ways they should or could do it differently.  It is easy to forget how often I’m  just like her, stuck in a situation without any real idea how to handle it.  So I wing it; I do what seems best in the moment and hope its okay, but I always worry what others are thinking of my choices.

Sometimes it’s nice to have someone tell us we’re not doing it all wrong!








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