When we built the pool in our backyard a few years ago, our boys already knew how to swim. They had taken lessons when they were 3-years-old at the local JCC. Obviously we put up a baby gate to protect them and visiting children from falling in. But when we had our third baby, she was the first one of my kids to live in a house with a pool and not know how to swim. I live in Florida, where unfortunately I read about drownings on a pretty regular basis. It’s terrifying to even think about.
I had seen pictures and videos of my friends’ babies over the years taking survival swimming lessons, but that terrified me, too. In my mind the parents were taking a necessary precaution, but the thought of dropping a fully clothed, screaming baby into a pool and watching them figure out how to float seemed like torture to me. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As the summer approached a seasoned mama friend of mine (who has six children including triplets) asked me when my daughter Billie was going to start swimming lessons. I told her I was looking into it, and moved on to the next subject. I just hadn’t decided what I was going to do, and I didn’t want to talk about it.
A few weeks later she asked again. Gathering that I was undecided, she invited me to come watch her babies take a lesson with their beloved teacher Rhonda. I did. Rhonda was calm and reassuring. The babies (who had been crying initially) were a few weeks into lessons and they couldn’t wait to take their turn. Watching them swim to the step and roll over and float, I thought there’s no way Billie will do that. She’ll cry and I’ll cry. But my friend was right, I would never forgive myself if she drowned. So I scheduled for Rhonda to come the following Monday.
She explained that her lessons were 15 minutes long, four times per week. Every baby is different, but normally they last about five to seven weeks. I was so nervous about the lessons that Sunday night I hardly slept.
As predicted, 18-month-old Billie wasn’t a fan of me handing her off to a stranger. She screamed pretty consistently for the first lesson… and the first week of lessons… At about the end of week three, the screaming stopped. She still let me know that she didn’t want Rhonda to come by shutting the door in Rhonda’s face when she rang the bell, or doing her “all done” hands when Rhonda walked into the house. She even tried waving bye-bye. Sorry kid, nice try. Thankfully once the hand off was done, she was very receptive to Rhonda.
In the fifth week Rhonda brought her Go-Pro camera and took some amazing shots of Billie under water. She told me Billie would be ready to graduate the following week. I should have her fully clothed in a regular diaper and shoes. This would replicate a possible scenario when she might fall into a pool.
Again, I was pretty nervous. Rhonda took her into the pool on test day, and I had my phone ready to capture the testing for my husband to watch later. Billie had a blast. She said “cheese” when she saw my camera. She kicked her feet with delight when Rhonda was going to flip her over. She smiled while she floated. She had a huge look of pride on her face when the testing was over. She knew she had accomplished something. We both had.
Rhonda told me that a lot of babies cry when they have their test day because they don’t like the feel of the heavy diaper and clothes on their feet. We both couldn’t believe how well Billie had done. And just like that—it was over. No more lessons. Billie can swim to the step, or float if she’s too far away. She loves showing off her skills. On July 4th she made sure that everyone on my patio watched her flip and float by calling their attention to her and waiting for their applause.
I’m pretty proud of myself, too. I got over the fear of survival swimming lessons. I stopped justifying to myself why I didn’t need to do it, and just did it. My friend who referred me to Rhonda really loves when I tell her she was right—so here it is, in black and white. Martha, you were right!
If you live in an area with lots of pools and lakes, I cannot stress the importance of survival swimming lessons for your babies and children. They are absolutely life saving. There are several different methods, so make sure you find a teacher that you’re comfortable with. Take the plunge—you’ll be glad you did.