Carlos has always loved the water. Even as a baby he loved playing in it and playing with it.

Just chillin'

Bath time was just an excuse for more play time in the water.

Fun in the bath

As much as he loved the water, Carlos was always a bit hesitant to “let go” in the pool. Last summer Carlos took swimming lessons in our town. Our elderly neighbor continues to teach the lessons that he has been teaching for at least a half century.  The parents of many of the kids in the class had Mr. Houton for their swim instructor. Carlos felt comfortable in the class even though he didn’t know any of the other kids. The class was only two weeks but he went every day and progressed quickly. They didn’t use any kind of flotation devices and the goal was for each child to swim from the deep end to the shallow end on their own. While Carlos didn’t achieve that goal he did feel much more at ease in the water and he has been excited about taking the lessons again this summer.

Orlando took Carlos to family swim night every other Friday while I was sleeping before work. While on vacation in Mozambique this winter I was shocked to find Carlos swimming on his own in the deep end of the pool at our hotel. Orlando was not too far away, but they had kept it a surprise that Carlos could now do the doggy paddle on his own. I was so proud of him.

In the deep end

Carlos attended day camp at the YMCA during April vacation. He loved it. They did swimming lessons first thing and then had activities all day. After that week I signed him up for a seven week session of swimming lessons at the Y.

The class started four weeks ago. He did great at the first class. At least I thought he did until he got out of the pool at the end of class with huge tears streaming down his wet face. He was so upset and he couldn’t seem to explain why. First Carlos said it was because the lifeguard “yelled at him.” Well that’s not quite what happened. The lifeguard reacted swiftly when Carlos let go of the wall, but when he saw that Carlos was fine he gently scolded him. The lifeguard even came over after to see if he had upset Carlos.

Then Carlos told me that he didn’t like the teacher because he was big and has tattoos. Apparently Daddy made some offhanded comment about people with tattoos being bad when four year old Carlos remarked that he wanted one. Suffice it to say that Carlos’ favorite person in the entire world just happens to have a tattoo that he is well aware of and he adores me her. Orlando and I had a little chat about that!

Carlos was anxious about the class all week. At the second class he refused to go in the water at first and would only sit on my lap. Finally the Aquatics Director, a very sweet woman, offered to take Carlos in herself. He finally went in and participated in the remnants of class with intermittent tears in his eyes.

Before the third class Carlos decided that we needed to talk. Here’s how that conversation went:

C: “Mom do I have to go back to that swim class?”

Me: “Yes.”

C: “Well I don’t think that I will.”

Me: “Why not?”

C: “I just don’t want to OK.”

Me: “Carlos please tell me what it is that you don’t like about it.”

C: “Mom how about you just sign me out of the class OK. I think that’s a good idea.”

I was left speechless. “Sign me out”…Where does this child get this stuff? I called the YMCA to talk to the Aquatics Director, but she was unavailable. I was considering switching Carlos to another class with one of his close friends which I found later was full. Herein lies my dilemma. My head was swirling in three different directions. I didn’t want to allow Carlos to simply quit the class. I was hesitant to “fix” things by switching him into the other class. I also hated to see my child so anxious about something like swimming lessons.

I allowed him to skip the third lesson because he was so worked up over going. I figured that it would give me time to think about how to handle the situation.

On Monday and Wednesday this week I took Carlos to open swim at the Y. We went with his friend. They had a great time and he swam great. This morning I mentioned that swim class was soon and all hell broke loose. His story today is that none of his friends are in his class and he doesn’t like that. I tried briefly to explain that his friends are in classes with kids they don’t know, but they still go. I offered him a pony ice cream. I made threats up stories about him not being able to go swimming all summer if he didn’t go in the pool. He finally put his bathing suit on crying all the while. He clung to me as we entered the pool area and wouldn’t let go until I agreed that he could just sit and watch. Only one mom was nice enough to sympathize with me. It was probably just my imagination but I could feel the other moms judgmental glares burning into my back.

At the end of the class we approached the instructor and explained that we wouldn’t be coming back. I commended him for the wonderful job that he is doing with the kids. Carlos was beaming with relief as he said goodbye. He is my happy, agreeable toddler right now. I am left torn in pieces by my decision to ultimately allow him to quit.

I have tried to tell myself that in the grand scheme of life this is not a fight worth fighting. Carlos loves to swim and he is comfortable swimming on his own without a bubble. He is excited to go back to the swimming lessons here in town given by our neighbor. The anxiety was never about fear of the water. I truly believe that it was just a bad fit and while many times in life you have to play the hand you’re dealt there are times that life is a little more flexible.

3 thoughts on “Torn

  1. That is a tough one, Aimee! I think you did the right thing. Water is such a scary thing for some kids and even adults can remember an incident that ruined or instilled fear in them for further swimming. As long as he’s comfortable again with you in water now, there will come a time that he’ll be ready for a lesson again. Maybe when he’s a little older – that happened with my oldest daughter.

    My youngest was tough with swimming. My parents had a pool and she never allowed me to teach her to swim. She had fear (of getting her face wet! Ah!) and I had fear of her drowning! I finally found a swim lesson at a local university. It was a two week course that required them to attend every day. It was strictly for drowning prevention. They learned how to jump into the water, come up, float on their backs and get to the side. The best part about it was that the instructors came over to the parents and took the kids to the pool area whether the kids were hysterical or not. It sounds harsh, but they very gently yet firmly took the kids to the water and there was no parental involvement allowed. It was a very different situation than I had ever experienced in any other swim class, but the approach worked! After the second day, no kids cried! And at the end of the 2 week period, every kid (even 3 year olds!) jumped off the diving board, came to the surface and swam to the side. Such a relief!
    Sorry for the novel 😉

    • Thanks for your comment Marisa. It is always helpful to hear how other Moms handle similar situations. I am feeling better about my decision now and I know that Carlos is too. Your daughter’s class sounds like the class that my son took last summer and will take again this summer. The instructor chased one of the kids around the pool until he was able to catch her and “throw” her in the pool because she was too afraid to jump. It really is all about survival.

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