Friday, June 15, 2012

"thank you for putting my eyes in the water"

both kids are coming to the end of their first summer session at morley's swim school.  they each go for 30 minutes every weekday for two weeks.  diana's looking forward to the next session already; i wish i had signed ander up for more.

diana learned to swim when we were living in st. louis.  we were at the pool with friends, as we always did, and i remember diana swimming with a particular friend and his aunt, who was a delightful, energetic young woman who loved being around kids.  diana saw what he was learning to do with his aunt, and she asked if she could do the same.  i can't recall with a great deal of clarity, but i think it was the first circumstance in which she felt comfortable putting her face in the water.  from there on out she wanted to take swim lessons, which she did, and was even brave enough to go off both diving boards (low and high).

when we moved to california, we enrolled her in the city pool lessons. she said they were ok.  i found them to be less than satisfactory.  the next summer, we heard from locals about morley's swim school.  it's run by a lovely grandmother and grandfather who really, really know their stuff and really, really want kids to have a positive, enriching experience learning to swim.  woodland residents have learned to swim there; their kids are now attending.  the morleys have been doing this for over 40 years.

they run a well-organized, smooth operation.  the teacher-student ration is 1:2 or 1:3; diana lucked out and she was the only "deep-end dolphin" during this session at her morning class, so she pretty much had a private tutor for these two weeks, working on breath control, kicks, strokes and a little bit of diving, too.  this is her third summer at morley's and i am impressed by her developing confidence and skill.  i am not surprised, though, because it is so well structured and in such a supportive environment.

there is a pool supervisor who watches every child in every class and helps keep track of their individual skill development.  there are four teachers in each class: three work with children in the shallow area, one is in the deeper area.  the teachers in the shallow area trade off halfway through the class and quickly inform each other as to each child's current activity.  this is accomplished so quickly and effectively that the kids become comfortable working with different people on the same skill.

there is a lot of discussion and coordination about the kids.  it happens between teachers during the lesson, between the pool supervisor and observing parents/caregivers, among all of the staff during their breaks.  mr. morley even came to me at the end of the first class to talk about things we could work on at home together so that what was practiced and talked about at home and at swim school could reinforce each other.

they are the experts at teaching kids to swim, but they recognize that parents know their own children best.  they seek our input and make suggestions, asking for our thoughts when they think a change needs to be implemented.  it really is collaborative.  they understand that there are concepts that apply to most, but not all, kids, and that a method that works for many may not work for a particular few.  they really, really want to kids to succeed and feel good about their accomplishments.

the mood is positive there.  as ander and i walk to our lesson every day (our home is now around the corner so we can have a pleasant outing and not have to take the car), we can hear splashing and cheering.  ander says, "i hear happy kids.  we must be getting close to morley's."  there is no yelling, no admonishments, no criticism.  there is occasionally some crying on the part of a student, but it is handled gently and with the utmost respect for the child's needs and feelings and they are never forced to do something they fear.  gentle reminders of the rules, focusing on what the child is allowed to do, rather than what they cannot, keep the kids safe in the water.  mostly, there are smiling faces, specific praises for a skill, lots and lots of high fives - plenty of positive reinforcement.  kids watch each other swim and cheer for them and offer support.  the teachers model, describe, explain, correct, and reinforce individual elements of skills using terms that kids can understand and relate to.

the pool is heated, shaded from the scorching sun, and cleverly gated in a way that allows parents and siblings and other spectators to watch the lesson in an unobtrusive manner.  there is plenty of shaded seating, books for kids to read, clean bathroom/changing area, and a remarkably gentle and pleasant dog named "hush" in his own fenced area, always willing to be petted by an eager little hand.

and the best part, perhaps, is the choice of a jelly bean at the end of the class.  both diana and ander are excited about that, and eagerly tell me what flavor they ended up with.

two summers ago, ander and i participated in a mom-tot class.  it was mainly about water safety: how to stay on the edge until receiving the go-ahead to come in, how to turn over and do a back float, how to get to the edge and climb out.  part of the class is acclimating them to the sensation of going under water (i presume) so that they can develop trust in their ability to bob back to the surface and be ok.  we each held our child safely and securely, said, "one...two...three...UNDER water" and pulled their bodies in until their heads were just under and then right back up again without delay.  most of the kids in the class did fine with this.  but not ander.  this is the child who does not like his face to be wet, argues against hair-washing, and is disturbed by water in his ears or eyes.  after the first attempt, it took almost four days to coax him back into jumping into my arms in the water, which he had been doing happily before The Underwater Incident.

last summer we spent many days at a zero-entry shallow public pool where ander could wander in as deep as he cared to.  he started to love jumping in from the side into my arms, and i was careful to keep his head out of the water.  he traveled along the steps and put his mouth in, wide-open, of course.  thank goodness it was a salt-water pool and not a chlorinated one, from all the water i'm sure he must have consumed.  he was happy practicing to climb in and out and hang on the edge and lower himself into the water.

this summer, a couple of weeks before the session started, i asked ander if he wanted to go to swim class like sister.  (i had already signed him up a month before, hoping for the best.)  he said yes!  he had a fun new swimsuit he picked out himself. we talked about how he would have teachers to help him, and that mommy was not getting in but would watch him, as would sister.  he couldn't wait to walk in line with the other kids and find out where he would sit along the pool's steps.  he made a new friend, a little boy named maverick, who shared the same instructor.  from the first day, their enthusiasm and energy has been wonderful for the both of them.  ander looks forward to seeing his friend every day and announces to everyone how well maverick swims, showing his evident pride.

ander spent most of last week practicing "alligator arms," "big splash kicks," and "blowing bubbles like a rocket."  the teachers took their cues from him on his comfort level in getting his mouth, then nose in the water.  they listened to my descriptions of his past reactions to water and did not force him.  then, this tuesday, the pool manager asked my thoughts about having him try to put his whole face in; they thought he was ready to be stretched a little.  i took a deep breath, let them know i trusted their impressions, and agreed to let him try.  teacher julia was gentle, cheerful, and matter of fact about how he was going to put his face in the water, demonstrating it for him first.

a little tug from her to get him down under the surface of the water, and he did it.

i was white-knuckling the fence, a smile plastered on my face, fearing the inevitable reaction.

he beamed at me from across the pool and yelled, "i did it!  i put my eyes in the water!"

when it was next his turn, he did it again.  i did not see that coming.

i was kicking myself for not having remembered to bring the camera that day.  you'd think i would have learned my lesson from having missed my opportunity the friday before to video him, first in line to jump off the diving board into the waiting arms of an instructor who kept his head out of the water.  bless her.  at least i saw it.

wednesday was a little rough.  teacher christy got him under the water, but her words and style and approach, while friendly and comforting to him in many ways, were different from his first experience with julia, and he emerged from the water looking confused and distressed.  the pool manager came over to check in with me and we discussed trying one more time, then not pushing him to do more.  both of his teachers encouraged him gently and talked him through it, but he did not want to try again.

oddly enough, at least to me, was his calling to me again that he put his eyes in the water.  he clearly wanted to share his pride for having done it, even though he was uncomfortable.  or maybe it was his way of getting past his discomfort, by focusing on the accomplishment itself.

at the end of the lesson, after he had his jelly bean and was wrapped in his towel from neck to ankle, like a standing cocoon, he stopped each of his teachers and THANKED THEM.  he thanked them for putting his eyes in the water.

i was floored the first time.  this was unprompted, unanticipated, unexpected.  the teacher he spoke to first was julia, the one who had helped him his very first time, when it went well.  i was still reeling when the other teacher, christy, came out of the pool and he said the VERY SAME THING to her.  this was the teacher who had a different approach, when it did not go as well.

today (thursday) he required a lot of coaxing from christy during the first part of his lesson to get him to try putting his face in.  they had to rebuild the trust.  and they did.  julia was marvelous and kept a genuine smile on her face and spoke gently and encouragingly.

he put his face in the water SIX TIMES.  and he watched intently at every other child who was swimming with their faces in the water, including maverick.  i think he realized he had just entered a sacred group of Those Who Can Put Their Faces In The Water and Live To Tell About It.  on the walk home, he said that julia had helped him, and that christy had helped him, and that i had helped him.  he then asked if i wanted to be a teacher in the pool with them.  i am among the people he trusts.

i know my boy.  i am his mother.  he continues to surprise and amaze me and squeeze my heart so much i feel it might explode.  i am totally, utterly, helplessly in love with him.

i am happyer at home today because i witnessed a breakthrough in my son's life.  i think it was a breakthrough for me, too.

friday update:

steve and diana came along today for ander's last class.  his buddy maverick's grandparents were there to watch maverick.  a lot of family members were there all day, supporting their little swimmers and watching them go off the diving board.  it made the boys a little silly, and they sought our attention a little more, waving to us and asking if we saw what they did.  ander kept calling to me to watch how well maverick was doing, too.

both teachers were awesome with him.  they were consistent in their approach, at least from my vantage point, and he did not object.  in fact, jus near the end of class, julia asked him to try putting his face in and blowing bubbles at the same time, which he did.  she then asked him to try putting his face in all by himself, without any help to do so.

by golly, he must have been feeling really confident, because HE DID IT!

he was so excited to go off that diving board again.  the catcher kept his head above water, though his face was splashed, and he totally rocked that jump.

so, despite the fact that we will miss a couple of days because of an upcoming camping trip, we signed him up for the next session so we can ride the momentum of this success.  i don't know how he will feel about not having maverick in his class; having a buddy there gave him courage and focus.  i will certainly miss the company of maverick's mom, kim, because she was a delight and comfort to me as we watched our boys together.  my hope is that he (we) will make a new friend or two and continue building his (my) skills and especially his (my?) confidence.

finish on a high note.  it will keep 'em coming back for more!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing out, so eloquently as you always do, my experience as well. I KNOW this SO well. SO Well <3