I have this fancy task management application that I sometimes use but mostly ignore, and it’s had a to-do item in there for, I don’t know, maybe a year or more, filed away in the “Kids” project under a folder titled “Teach Riley to swim”. The first action item in this carefully-organized project was “Call swimming center re: lessons”.

And there it’s sat for all these months, which is my main problem with fancy task management software applications: they lack the one mission-critical feature I need, which is for a tiny boot to emerge from my computer and give me a swift kick in the ass.

Meanwhile, Riley not only didn’t learn how to swim, but he got pretty scared of water in general. I don’t mean the bathtub, but the fearless baby who happily splashed around the Umpqua River on his dad’s shoulders is gone, replaced by a suspicious preschooler who wants nothing to do with that shit, and by the way are there sharks in rivers?

We finally got the damn lessons booked (which, as a sidenote, has officially tipped our family Busy-O-Meter into the red zone; not that the kids are over-scheduled but I sure as hell feel like I am) and his first swim day was Monday.

Riley is a bit of a tentative kid, maybe a little extra sensitive about certain things. He’s not a fan of loud noises or startling images or pent-up anticipation (remind me to tell you about the time a well-meaning doctor blew a latex glove into a balloon for him during a checkup! Actually that’s pretty much the whole story, except for the part where he shouted NOOOOOOOOOOO and she was all HOLY FUCK KID I WILL PUT THE HANDBALLOON AWAY NOW), and I assumed this first lesson would be . . . difficult.

And it was, a little. He wailed when he first got in the water, he cried when the instructor held him and moved away from the safety of the pool edge. He cried off and on for the entire half hour.

But get this. Not once did he call to JB or I. He didn’t try and scramble out of the pool and away from the water. He just endured, clearly frightened but sticking it out.

The teacher did all kinds of clever things with Riley and the two other little boys in the class: she had them throw floating toys into the deeper section of the pool, then she’d carry them to go pick them up. She sprinkled water on their heads with a little watering can. She put all three of them on a floating piece of foam and swirled them around.

By the time he was done, he was shivering and still sniffly but smiling. We told him over and over how proud we were of him, and he said “I cried a lot but I did good,” and we said yes, you sure did.

Later, I talked to him about bravery and what it means when you do something even though you’re scared, and his eyes were like big dark pools as he listened to me.

Yesterday was his second class and he didn’t cry once. He squealed with joy when he got swirled through into the deeper end, he floated by himself on a big foam noodle, he squinted but didn’t complain as water was poured on his head.

At the end of the lesson, the instructor coaxed him to jump from the edge of the pool into the water where she caught him, but not before letting him completely submerge. The first time he was shaky and stretched a beseeching hand to her and I could barely watch, and then he did it—jumped, a tangle of skinny boy-elbows and bruised knees—and I sat there on the bleachers and cried like a giant wuss while he climbed back out and did it again.

I took him by the grocery store afterwards and as we were walking the aisles I told him again how incredibly proud I was.

“I’m proud of me too,” he said, then something caught his eye. “Hey Mom? Can I get these Transformers bandaids?”

You know I bought the damn things, right? And a box of mini chocolate donuts to share with his brother, even though it was almost bedtime.



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14 years ago

Wow, when did Riley start calling you “Mom” instead of “Mommy”? That’s a sign he’s growing up right there! My daughter is just starting to experiment with that too and it makes her seem so old!

Speaking of Sage, she is a complete water wuss and hates, hates, hates to get water in her eyes (as do I, so I’m living in a glass house in this respect). Swimming lessons haven’t done anything, really, to teach her to swim. We’re going to have to do something about that before we move back to a house with a pool next year…

14 years ago

Gooooooooo Riley! Woohoo!

Strong Rhetoric
14 years ago

Am I the only TOTAL GEEK here who is dying to know of which task management application you speak? Do tell!

14 years ago

Strong Rhetoric, No, you are not the only one. First thing I thought when I read the post. :)

14 years ago

So far behind in reading your posts, but I hope you get this comment. My older son (who just turned 8) sounds very much like Riley…I describe him as a cautious kid. We had some issues with water/swimming lessons/jumping off the diving board. My mom (my superhero who flies in to the rescue whenever I’m feeling particularly sucky at being a mom) found this great book for him. Courage by Bernard Waber. The other night something was bothering him and he said, “mom, I think we need to read the Courage book.” Thought you guys might like it, too.