7/30/09

Postcard from Vermont: Swimming Lessons

Nothing makes me feel as old as Zoe's swim teachers. They can't be a day over 18; all of them tan and smooth in places I am pale and lumpy. And as much as I hate to admit it, I am completely shy and intimidated by them. Somehow I feel 14 and 53 at the same time.

We signed Zoe up for swim lessons this summer because the girls (I still can't get used to saying or typing that!) and I will be here for almost a month and now that Zoe's cousin is gone, she needs some activity with people under the age of 30 once in a while. Plus, one set of grandparents has a pool, the other a lakehouse, and learning to swim is, for us, a non-negotiable life skill. So, for the last 4 days my mom, the girls (!) and I have hauled ourselves away from the lake and into town to the municipal pool over Zoe's nervous protests.

Last year, Zoe loved the water. In her Mommy and Me swim class, we bounced around and blew bubbles and worked on front and back floats. By the end of the session, she was jumping off the side of the pool into my waiting arms, putting her head under WILLINGLY and excitedly kicking her legs and waving her arms in what I was sure would one day be a historic, gold-medal-winning doggy paddle. But this moment in time is full of regressions and battles for control with Zoe and she is back to looking warily at the pool like something might jump up and bite her when she turns away.

This is a class where Zoe is supposed to be in the water, with the teachers and other kids, without me. At first she clung to me, didn't want to get near the pool, wanted to stay in the 6 inch deep wading pool for all eternity.


Now it's all about her hair and how the world will surely end in a pillar of fire if her hair were to get submerged. So I made myself go up to one of her teachers, the one with the I'm-in-charge clipboard, and I mumbled and blushed my way through a few sentences about how Zoe really doesn't want to get her hair wet and I promised her she wouldn't have to, today, so please don't push it and TAKE CARE OF MY PRECIOUS BABY OMG.

At first I hung out by the pool which proved to be a bad idea, what with Zoe running to me every two minutes. So for the last two days, my mom and I have sat outside the chain link fence and bitten our lips as Zoe sat in the gutter of the pool, watching the other kids, receiving very little attention from the teachers.

Today I found myself getting enraged.

There were four instructors in the pool. Two of them each gave what appeared to be private, one-on-one lessons to a single child, though those children are part of this "class". Another instructor worked with two girls, going back and forth between them. The last instructor, the one I spoke with, stood in front of four girls who were sitting in the gutter, including Zoe. Zoe sat there and stared and got shy and nervous when the teacher came over to her and reached for her and asked if she wanted to get in the water. When Zoe turned away and got nervous, the teacher moved on and left her there. Zoe spent the majority of the lesson either sitting and staring at the pool and the other kids or running away from the pool and the teachers who thought it was funny and cool to spend large parts of the class squirting one another with the pool noodles pressed up against the water jets. (Now I'm not only looking like an old lady but sounding like one too. "You little whipper snappers and what you think is 'fun'!" It's the verbal equivalent of spider veins and crow's feet.)

I could barely contain my seething anger. How could they not see that they need to actually ENGAGE Zoe and soften her up before trying to get her in the water, that just asking "wanna come in?" isn't enough? Why are some kids getting special private attention for the whole class while my daughter sits bored and alone and unattended to? Is there no structure to this class, with specific skills that they are trying to teach in some kind of organized fashion? DO THEY NOT SEE THAT ZOE IS PRECIOUS AND SPECIAL AND IN NEED OF ATTENTION?

And yet, when my mother said "So, go SAY SOMETHING", I felt bolted to my seat. I start to (over)analyze it all. Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe this is success, just her sitting there by herself without me. Maybe I'm wrong about her needing more attention, maybe she'd totally freak out if one of the instructors tried to give her a long, one-on-one class.

All I know is that I desperately want her to feel successful at this. To have fun. This is a hard time for all of us and I was hoping for an enjoyable experience for her.

And I know I need to get over my ridiculous embarrassment and say something to the teacher tomorrow.

11 comments:

Marie Green said...

Sometimes is sucks so much being a grown-up. You should have YOUR mom say something. Bet they'd listen to her! And that she'd be more confident in getting her granddaughter rightfully deserves.

Ha, ha, I'm kidding. Sort of.

Kathi McCracken Dente said...

Sadly, teachers matter A LOT. And you do have a right to ask them to engage Zoe. I have found being the parent of a three year old challenging in all new ways. It is no longer simply managing behavioral and safety issues. There is this whole knew grey area of how to motivate them. When do you push and how much? Am I doing enough or too much? When do I just let her figure it out in her own time? It is tough and there are no clear answers. I guess this the part where you just do your best. And lucky for you...your best is pretty good. Trust yourself!

belinda said...

You want her to feel successful and hav e fun- do you think that either of those are happening right now? Do you think that any of the instructors are making an effort to ensure that either of those are happening? You are very perceptive of other people's behavior, but you always doubt yourself and think you're over analyzing! What does your mommy-gut say?

These girls probably don't see that Zoe needs extra attention and nuturing. If they really are your typical late teen/early 20s type who teach swim lessons then they are probably certified to teach swimming- and not much more. unless you happen to luck out with someone with a natural gift for teaching, they won't be much better than that.

Two thoughts: (1) when I was Zoe's age, I was the one sitting in the gutter, saying "no" when the teachers asked if I wanted to come in - I evetually just taught myself to swim but because my mom wanted it done officiallly she ended up getting me private lessons. That's how bad the lack of knowledge of how to address/engage a shy/hesitant child was THEN- I cannot imagine what it is like now.

(2) You need to say something. The teachers should not "get away with" this. Zoe deserves attention. You deserve to feel good about how you handle this, and not feel like you shrunk back from these "toned and taned" chickies. Not that I don't get it- I would be intimidated too. But, remember who you are... You are not CBHM, the "old and pale and lumpy" (*snort*, I laugh because you are surely anything but, and of course I know just how you feel!) taking on the Young, Bold and Beautiful- but you are Zoe's mom, defending her. In reality, if you hold your head up, straighten your shoulders, and speak firmly and politely, you will scare the crap out of those girls- how would you have felt when you were 18?

You have good instincts. Don't second guess, and don't analyze so much!! Go on what your gut is telling you and just DO it before you think yourself into a ball of anxiety!!

Swistle said...

I often know when I need to say something. Where I get stuck is: WHAT to say? I don't know for this, either. Something Needs to Be Said, sure. But...what? "Don't you guys know how to teach?" "I'm no swimming instructor but even I know that you need to...."

Watching my kids' swim teachers for the past four summers, I've gotten the impression that they're told they are not allowed to make the children go into the water. The teachers vary in their cajoling skills. If their cajoling skills are zilch, they're stuck: they can neither force nor cajole the child to get into the water. And they're, like, high school students, so their brains are still soft and unformed.

What I do is I join the group. I don't get in the water (though there's another mom in the Little Swimmers class who does, even though it's supposed to be non-parental-participation), but I sit right there and I talk to my Reluctant Child so that the teachers can hear me and---ideally---participate. This is also how I communicate to the teachers that I think THEY should be doing what I'M doing. So I splash her knees a little, and I kick her feet for her, and I talk about how FUN this is and how NICE the water feels, and I help her get in the water. I've had pretty good success with this: i.e., after a couple of lessons, I can sit back with the other parents and read a book.

Maria Blois, MD said...

ugg. sounds stressful. what i've done with my four kiddos is that if they seem to enjoy swim lessons before 6, i let them take classes. if it is a struggle though, we just wait until 6 when they actually want to swim and love the classes. until then, we just swim with them.

gosh, there is no rush to learn to swim. there is always next summer and the next. i have found that a motivited kid can learn to swim in a few sessions, but one who is reluctant can suffer through class after class with no progress.

we live in texas and swim all the time and whether my children under 6 have taken swim classes or not, i always stay within arms reach. they just can't be trusted yet :)

if zoe enjoys the classes, it is worth the effort. if not, perhaps choose a different activity.

Amie said...

Oh I felt so sad for Zoe. This doesn't seem fun at all. Say something and maybe find another class or just stop going.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Thanks ladies! I can't tell you how helpful your supportive comments (and emails) have been.

Turns out there is no class on Fridays! So we got all the way there, with me literally sweating over what I was going to say to the teacher, and found the pool empty.

SO. There's always Monday, right? Or else we'll just say eff it and head to the local county fair ("Ladies Cast Iron Skillet Toss" anyone??

KG said...

Ouch. How incredibly painful!

I've been the kid on the side of the pool and I've been the under-qualified teen teacher, too.

Does it help that recent educational research is indicating that a SEASONED teacher is a better predictor of a child's success than the RATIO (which we used to think was the magic number)? Am I a MASSIVE GEEK (yes) for even referring to recent edu research when addressing Z's swim lessons?

Despite the fact that I AM a geek, I think there is a useful bit here - Yes, request better attention, yes, perhaps even model how to do it, as suggested by Swistle, and if that doesn't work, perhaps cut your losses and chalk it up to teenagers who probably (if they are at all like I was) got wasted last night and are psyched to do it again tonight. In this case, I think your inexperienced teachers can only take you so far.

Stephanie Velegol said...

There is a great book like this. Have you even read the Baby Duck picture books? There is one about swimming. Awesome books and always reminded me of Lauren's issues like this. Come to think of it 2 years ago Lauren wouldn't even get into the water and by the end of the summer she was swimming under water. And I remember being SO frustrated at the beginning and so proud at the end!

Grateful Twin Mom said...

Swim lessons are one of the most traumatic events, I think, more for the mom than the kids. Zoe's confidence will boost with tiny steps, and I think you're right to talk to the teacher. My twins went to swimming "bootcamp." Eight days of one-on-one lessons in a row. They had them jumping off the diving board by the end. But the first 6 days, T1 cried and screamed and whined for me as they took him in the water and pushed him to the side, face in, no questions asked. It wasn't up to the child to decide if they wanted to go in or not. Talk about trauma for me! I had to leave the pool area, outside the fence, like you, and I cried just as much as he did. One of the things I've learned about my kids' development is that the thing that's giving you the most heartache right now (gas for the infant, potty training for the toddler, swim lessons for the preschooler) will all pass. And once you think you've got it all figured out, something else will come along to cause you that worry and distain (like school, for instance. Doesn't the teacher know that my kid need TLC?) Good luck!

Stef said...

My 5-1/2 year old is still scared of the pool. We've had lessons for him for 2 summers now, and he still refuses to get his face wet. He has been in a larger group of kids, but, unlike the situation you're in, he gets singled out for 1:1 instruction, and even taken over to a smaller pool alone. I have to say that even though this sounds amazing and exclusive, I still find myself embarrassed and frustrated. I wish he could just be in a group with the other kids, and not be so scared! When I pointed out to him that the other kids were having fun playing together in the "big pool", he pointed out to me that he gets his own pool! So, as frustrated as I feel, I guess he's just doing what feels good to him.

I'm sure Zoe will get into it soon. For now, though, I can't blame her for being a little shy. I mean, isn't she in the middle of a huge move? Far away from "home" and her dad? She may be more willing to swim next year when her life has restabilized...oh, and also maybe she gets that these "teachers" are not trustworthy! Good judgment, girlie!!

So, eff the class and go throw some pans!

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