Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Toddler swim classes and the management of fear

A Bear is approaching 18 months and she's well into swimming lessons. They happen on daddy day, so I'm also learning; about fear, complex project management, and the joys of walking home in midwinter wearing wet boardies under trackie pants and thongs.

If this sounds a bit ambitious and wanky like those programs for teaching your toddler orchestral composition, or rocket science, or 1st year university subjects, then let me explain. She's not actually learning the butterfly; the classes are designed to make little tots comfy in the water and teach them some very basic survival skills- don't breathe underwater, get in backwards, get out quickly if you fall in.

She's doing well. Bear is proving to be a derring-do risk-taker, and throws herself into most challenges with enthusiasm. Good and bad there obviously. Most of the other kids are older, and she handles being splashed or pulled along underwater better than many of her peers.

But each class sees her go under at some point, unplanned. It's just part of playing in the pool, you don't stop watching- closely- ever. She trips and goes under, my heart stops, I explode out of the water in her direction (even if, as in most cases, she's about 2 feet away) and haul her out and up into the air with both hands. She just blinks and blows the water away from her mouth. I put her down slowly and feel my heartrate zip up to 200 then back down again over the next 10 seconds or so.

Bear on the other hand is only fazed when the big dufous kid, sweet as he is, who should be in a higher class but isn't up to it yet, unintentionally thumps her into the water. It's happened twice, I'm getting antsy.

Late at night as I try to sleep I replay the events over and over. Staying sane (if I'm that, we could argue it) involves staving off the candid observation that at all times my reaction is the only thing preventing the unthinkable. That despite the supportive setting, the lifeguards, the specialist infant teachers, myself and the other parents, this is water, and it takes lives. Very quickly.

So I want her to learn, and be confident.

I will never forget the green of the swirling water as I fell into the crocodile-infested Morehead River in Papua as a 3 year old. The moments where I just hovered there, under the water, clueless, thinking 'I'm about to drown' until the boom and the hand grabbing my hair and the relaxation of knowing it's all ok, mum got me before the denizens of the depths.

Parenting- fear and fun wrapped up like a blindfolded schuss down Argentiere.