Drama at the Swimming Pool – Kveller
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Drama at the Swimming Pool

I had high hopes for swim class, and it seems they were justified: both girls are taking to the water like… uh… like ducks to water! But I had an unfortunate situation arise at the pool today, and I’d appreciate some opinions (polite ones) on the subject.

Neither girl has had swim lessons before, and they’re just 22 months apart. Still, I thought I’d try having them in two separate classes. Abby, 23 months, was in the Mommy and Me class, and Penny (3.5) was in the Starfish class. Both do roughly the same skills, but in the M&M class, the kids are doing stuff the whole time (since mommy is there to assist), and in the Starfish, they spend a lot of time bobbing around in the water waiting while the teacher holds them up to float, works with them on kicking, yadda yadda.

Penny was totally disenchanted with the Starfish class. It was boring to sit around, and she didn’t like the instructor– he’s a guy, and I think she feels either crushy and/or intimidated. She gets very uncomfortable when he puts his hands on her, even though he’s sweet and jolly and the other kids are fine.

My policy has been that Penny starts with her class and if she wants to come over to our class, that’s fine with me, but she has to be patient while I do stuff with Abby. Abby does MUCH better in the class when the teacher holds her; with me, she’s clingy, but with the instructor, she’s all spunky and showing off. Alternately, Penny does better with me; she feels more secure, so she’s braver, goes underwater, jumps off the side, etc.

My kids, different personalities, you know? I’ve known them both a while.

Anyway, about halfway through our fourth (of eight) classes, the supervisor, a young woman in heart-shaped glasses, came over to ask if she could try to talk Penny into taking her own class, saying if she couldn’t see me, she’d be fine in a few minutes. I said sure, give it a shot.

I backed off and returned to the M&M side of the pool. Heart-Shaped Glasses spoke to Penny for a moment, then brought her over to Trevor, the instructor. Penny began sobbing–loud sobs, not shy sniffles. She clung to HSG, who continued to give her a pep talk, then backed away from Penny–who was still sobbing–and waved her hands in the air dismissively.

As Trevor tried to romance Penny, HSG walked over to me. “I see this every day,” she said. “She’ll calm down if she can’t see you. If you keep going over to her, she’s going to get the idea that she can just come to you anytime, but if you don’t, she’ll join in the class.”

Penny at this point hadn’t seen me for several minutes. She worked with Trevor for a bit, but burst into tears again and clung to the side of the pool, refusing to look at him. What was the point?

We had a few more words, but it came down to this: I thought HSG was wrong about me and my kid–she was not attention-seeking, she was really scared, and to me, this meant she wasn’t ready for Trevor’s class. And this: HSG was being patronizing, telling me her half-warmed parenting theories.

I was angry. I struck back. “I’m really not into this ‘tiger-mom‘ style of teaching,” I told her. “I don’t believe it’s going to help her learn. I think she’s going to learn a lot faster if the pool is a positive, fun experience for her.”

“Your child, your choice,” HSG snapped, and stalked away, making the same dismissive hand-wave, then disappearing into the clubhouse. I went to pick up Penny and she was trembling, teeth chattering on the warmest day so far this summer. It took the rest of the class to calm her down enough to participate.

I know it’s a popular practice–to disappear rather than saying goodbye–but I’m of the opinion that a kid needs to say goodbye, even if it’s a tearful one. When Penny first went to part-time daycare, her excellent provider had a “window-wave” ritual where, if the kid had trouble letting go, she would stand at the window and wave. The kid might still cry, but there wasn’t this hiding and sneaking. Same with Penny’s preschool–the first day, parents are encouraged to stay as long as they want, and even the clingiest of kids are fine after about 20 minutes.

(I know that works for plenty of moms; my friend Cindy used to tell her daughter that she was just going inside the nursery school and would be up in the window if she wanted her. The kid never checked, and was never the wiser, and it was genius and brilliant. But that’d never work in my house. My kids are just different.)

All this to say: HSG assumed I didn’t know what my kid needed, and she dismissed me as a “helicopter parent,” a term I abhor. My daughters are terrific adventurers and are proud owners of many scrapes and boo-boos. I don’t think I need to make my 3-year-old child miserable just to prove a point.

(Of course, I made her miserable again about 20 minutes later when I discovered I’d forgotten a change of clothes and she had to go home in her bathrobe, but… one trauma at a time, please!)

What do you guys think? Obviously I’ve told the story from my POV, and I’m aware there are some kids who do better when the parent backs off, but that’s not my philosophy. Isn’t that my prerogative?

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