I grew up as the oldest of three girls. While there were certain perks and privileges to being the eldest, it also came with the territory of what I like to call, “The Great Experiment.” Let’s face it, do we really have a clue of what’s going on with the first baby? I don’t blame my parents. As a parent of three, I understand completely the need to do your best, praying that you won’t destroy your child if you opt to give her baby food from a jar rather than homemade food from your organic garden.
When I had reached the ripe old age of 9 months, my parents thought it important to sign me up for baby swim lessons. There was a trend at the time that urged parents to get their babies acclimated to water in the unfortunate circumstance that if said baby happened to army crawl themselves into a swimming pool, he would be equipped to know how to bring himself to the surface of the pool and swim to the sides for safety. How the infant would be able to pull himself out of the pool, I have no idea, but as a member of the Great Experiment Club, I get the logic. Of course I should teach my baby how to swim. I should also probably teach them how to drive the car safely to the side of the road if the brakes go out. Only the best for my baby.
In theory infant swim lessons are a good idea. In theory, communism works.
The biggest problem with these infant swim lessons was that while they may have been fashioned with good intentions, they were executed with . . .
Duh, duh, daaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh . . . (cue scary movie soundtrack)
I still break into a cold sweat at the sound of her name.
Ms. Jones was an ex-Marine drill instructor. Teaching babies. Marine instructors do a lot of things incredibly well. Teaching babies is not one of them.
My parents actually have rudimentary video footage of my swim lessons. You see Ms. Jones taking the screaming baby out of the parents’ arms and throwing the child into the pool, demanding that the other parent not catch the baby, but rather, let the child figure out how to come up in the water on her own. And the parents did it. Because they were equally afraid of Ms. Jones.
At the end of one session of swim lessons, I was officially an aquaphobic 10-month-old. I screamed while taking baths for six months. For two years, I lived in fear of fountains at malls, certain that Ms. Jones would jump out from behind the artificial tree at any moment and throw me in again.
My mom and dad lovingly tried to correct this chapter of the Great Experiment, teaching me to swim during family vacations and ensuring that none of their other children would be exposed to water boarding swim techniques. To this day, however, I still am not comfortable swimming in an ocean, lake, or deep pool. (I managed to get over bathtubs.)
That’s why it’s only reasonable that when I had three kids of my own, that I, too, would want to sign them up for swim lessons. Great Experiment Club, remember?
Fortunately, for them, they did not inherit a swim instructor like Ms. Jones. Mr. Santos was kind, patient, and encouraging. Unfortunately, for them, they did seem to inherit their mother’s affection for getting in water where they cannot stand.
By the second lesson, the girls spent the entire time hanging onto the side of the pool for dear life and screaming in terror at any suggestion to let go.
Watching this as their mother was heartbreaking. On one hand, I wanted them to push through, learn how to swim to have fun this summer, build their character. On the other hand, I’m having flashbacks to my own torture sessions and I wanted to scoop them up from their “Starfish exercises,” and run out of there, never to return.
Time and again, being a parent has helped me understand God as my Father more than I ever did before. I can think of my own moments, big and small, when I was screaming at the edges of something new, desperately begging for Him to get me out:
Starting a new high school where I didn’t know anyone.
Checking myself in for surgery to remove skin cancer.
Working my first day at a new job where I knew I was way over my head.
Moving away from family to live in the middle of the city with a one-year-old and my husband.
Watching my kindergartener start school the first time.
I had some monumental internal (and sometimes external) tantrums each time that would make even my two-year-old proud. I would call out to my Father with a look in my eyes that begged, “Why are you doing this to me?!?”
In each circumstance, however, He never “took me out of the pool” and gave me what I wished. As every good parent knows, a child in the middle of a need-to-grow moment really doesn’t know what she truly wants. He did something far better. He got in the pool with me. He held me close, calmed me down, reminded me of what we’d already learned, and tangibly provided assurance that I was not alone.
And as I made it through each lesson, I found myself becoming a stronger swimmer, better equipped to handle deeper waters of trust, and even enjoying the recreation that the growth provides.
So that’s what we tried to do with the girls. It was Brad’s idea. I can’t take credit for this one. In between swim lessons, we had family swim lessons. We got in the pool together and we worked on the basics. And as we made it through each new week, their confidence grew. They were laughing in the pool, and they were proud of their accomplishments. Claire even declared at the last lesson that her favorite part of the day was “Pwobabwee, doin da stahfish.”
I guess even members of the Great Experiment Club can enjoy an experiment gone right every once in a while. I thank God for that.