It shouldn’t come as any great surprise when I tell you that I love the water. I grew up at the beach, after all.
Yep, oceans and pools and I’m your gal. I don’t go freshwater: Too much slime, too many creepy crawlies and not enough visibility to see it all coming at you.
It never occurred to me that I would have a child who was scared of the water. Of course, after I had been lulled into complacency with my first child’s aquatic trepidation, it never occurred to me that I would then have a child who did not know the meaning of fear.
I’m too damned polite to name names, but I strongly believe that a certain “fight or flight” swim course taught at a local institution of higher learning was the impetus for Baby Belle 1’s problem with the water. The course is touted as a “tough love” approach, but I’ll be John Brown if I can figure out where the “love” portion of the program is.
Parents aren’t allowed anywhere near the pool, but they are allowed to observe from cordoned off bleachers on the second floor. About 30 seconds into the lessons, the reason that parents are kept away because readily apparent: Mamas, Daddies, Grandparents and anyone else would be jumping in to the pool left and right in order to save their precious angels.
Small children were attached to sorry excuses for flotation devices and were summarily thrown kicking, screaming and sobbing into a pool where allegedly qualified college students watched with no emotion as the poor babies flailed desperately. Kids were clinging to the sides and to their heartless instructors and screamed in horror as they were shucked off like barnacles and abandoned.
At the time of the course, I was extremely pregnant with Baby Belle 2 and I vividly recall trying to make mental corrections for the shift in my center of gravity so that I could dive from the second story and make the pool instead of the tile. Scott called me at one point to see how it was going and he couldn’t understand a word I said because I was crying and hyperventilating so hard.
Baby Belle 1 was completely (understandably) miserable and begged me weakly not to make her go back. Good God how I wanted to give in, but I was scared of setting a very significant precedent in addition to the fact that all of the parents and coaches I spoke with swore by the program. If the girl was going to grow up in Wilmington, she had to achieve some level of comfort with the water. I gritted my teeth and made certain to dry my inevitable tears as I waddled downstairs to pick her up from her torturous lessons.
I probably shouldn’t be as proud of this as I am, but—when Baby Belle 1 realized that she was stuck in classes to the bitter end—she adapted the situation to her rather than adapting the herself to the situation. The kid took so many potty breaks that I know they had to wonder if the girl was drinking half the pool and they were real seventh inning stretches, too. Plus, at the end of each lesson, the instructors would take the kids over to the diving pool to throw the poor little souls off of the diving boards into the water. Every time the lifeguard grabbed Baby Belle 1, she would position herself just so that if he threw her, his trunks would go down, too. They let her down every time and they eventually stopped trying to get her at all.
What was the result of this magnificent and revolutionary program? Baby Belle 1 is 7 years old and it wasn’t until this year that we were able to get her to go in the water without her pink life vest approved “for ages 3 and under.” It was getting to be a pure tee chore to get her into the thing and it was so tight that I don’t know how she could bear it, but she had to have it on...even in shallow water.
This is also the first year (we’re in a very groundbreaking era) that we have been able to get Baby Belle 1 to put her head under water. The negotiations to spur the action were of levels approaching the Versailles Treaty and the Geneva Accord...plus we had to buy purple goggles.
So—here we were with this kid who refused to leave our side in the water (even when we wanted her to) and then along comes Baby Belle 2, or as I like to call her: “Kamikaze” Council.
The kid sees water and makes a beeline for it. Whether or not you are ready isn’t her problem. I can’t tell you the number of times I have looked the little buzzard in the eye and said, “Wait for mama to put her stuff down. The water is over your head,” and she slipped off the side and right into the pool just as defiantly as you please.
A couple of weeks ago, we went to the pool one evening. It was a light crowd, so the lifeguards were able to goof off a little. Two of them took running jumps off of the diving board and that was evidently the first time that Baby Belle 2 had ever seen the board in use. She looked like it was Christmas morn: She broke free of me, scurried up the stairs and looked at me as though I was the biggest dunce in the world for staying put. She pointed at the diving board and said, “I’m going!” It was all I could do to catch her before she performed her triple lindy.
The water wings from last summer were a mess and I’d been trying to manage without them, but after the diving board incident, I realized that the safety devices weren’t optional. I went to Target and got the last pair in Wilmington. When we went to the pool yesterday, I took them out and Baby Belle 2 looked at me like I’d lost my mind and said in disgust, “I don’ wan’ dose. Dey’re too safe!”