Bravery and Fear

I glance over to the other side of the pool and see George standing in the corner of his lane. He is bouncing up and down and when he catches my eye he smiles and give me a thumbs up. Before I can respond, I feel the ton of bricks that is Henry land on me. He knocks my glasses off and water goes up my nose. He swims up into my arms and shouts “AGAIN” through sputters. I set him on the side of the pool and do an irritated search for my glasses.I am not irritated at Henry. I’m positively fuming at George. Yes, the one that just smiled sweetly at me from across the pool. I turn my attention to Henry and throw my arms out and he jumps into them swimming and kicking his little heart out. Looking over at George, he is still standing there. Not swimming. The source of a surprising amount of annoyance that I’m not sure how to handle.

As a parent, I like to think of myself as pretty chill and “hands off.” This involves a lot of waiting. My method of potty training involves waiting until they tell me they are ready. If they fall down, I wait to see what they do before jumping in with my reaction. When the boys fight, I stay out of it for the most part. I don’t feel the need for them to be “the best” at anything. I hope they find things they love to do.

But to my surprise, this swimming thing is driving me batty. Letting him go at his own pace is incredibly tough. Cause here is the rub. George CAN swim. I’ve seen it at his private swim lessons (that we paid a boatload of money for, by the way). The boy can dive down and get a ring, and even swim unassisted for about half a length.

The fact that he can and won’t was causing serious annoyance, and to be frank, downright anger. At a parenting low point, he asked me for his puddle jumper and I said no. He begged me. I said no again, and in fact, I was going to get rid of it. He cried—real tears. It was a wake-up call.

Why in the world is this bothering me so much?

The water is my natural ally. I swam independently at 2 years old. No one “taught” me really, I was exposed to swimming and had an innate skill. My mom tells a story about me learning to swim when I fell in the pool and she rushed to the side (but note: she did NOT panic or try to pull me out immediately—she waited, giving me space to try) and I swam up to her. Eyes open. And that was that.

So that’s one piece. I don’t get his hesitation. But, he is cautious by nature. He takes his time. And I want him to TRY. Right away. Try and fail. I want to see him struggle. I don’t need him to be GOOD at something, I just want him try it. I value persistence over all other skills. When I stopped to really think about it, I have actually felt this annoyance with him before, but was able to brush it off. Because playing soccer, or going down a slide, or writing his name doesn’t really matter. He will get there. He will learn, get braver, and accomplish all sorts of wonderful things. I make him try, get annoyed when he pushes back, decide to pick my battles and move on. To the point that it’s unconscious.

So back to: Why this? Why can I deal with his timid, deliberate nature (so opposite from mine) in most of areas, but not with swimming?

After spending a lot of time thinking about this, I can tell you in one word: FEAR.

Water is dangerous. Swimming saves lives. Swimming saved MY life. I fell into a river at his age. Only the fact that I could swim saved me from dark water. I feel the urge to push him so hard because I am deathly afraid of him drowning. It’s the leading cause of death in kids his age.

I need him to be brave because I am terrified.

So, as usual, it’s my problem. Not his. Writing this out has helped me see that I need to utilize one of the hardest things for me: patience. I’m going to take some deep breaths and work with him. Let him have his floaty. Let him love the water. Keep teaching him to swim, keep him exposed to water. And keep my eyes on him like a hawk.

Be brave enough to give George space to be George.


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