Because of all the nasty weather we had last week, we only had 2 swim practices, so tonight was our first time back in the water since Tuesday (until we had to get out because of thunder). But I got some time with my little sinkers, so it was all good. I’ve mentioned that I get to work with the kids who are the least proficient in the water. And most of them are under 6, which means they have the collective attention span of a Jack Russell puppy… on speed. I have 10 in my group, too, so I spend a lot of time counting heads and turning ‘round in circles, looking for possibly-drowning children.
One of my kids, Nick, is older than the others. He’s 10 but, because of some debilitating health problems when he was younger, he never learned to swim. In fact, he has a real fear of the water. Even now, he looks fragile and still deals with some residual issues, but his parents feel he needs to get over his fear, so they’re pushing him (gently) into the pool (figuratively, anyway). His mom sought me out at our organizational meeting (she’d been told by another mother to ask me to work with her boys) so I was aware of the situation and the first night we practiced, I made sure I got Nick and his little brother in my group. Though his brother was quite willing to jump right in, Nick wasn’t. He sat on the pool deck with his dad, in tears, because he was afraid to get near the water. I called him over and quietly promised him that I would never ask him to do anything that would hurt him or that he really didn’t want to do, and I’d let him work at whatever pace was comfortable for him… all I asked was that he try. He told me he would and the next night he sat (away from his mom) at the edge of the pool, closer than the night before. Every time I asked if he was ready to get in the water, he’d say, “In a few minutes,” and after a half-hour, he worked up the courage. During the next half hour, he watched the little kids and then bravely tried everything I asked him to do. He was so proud of himself each time he accomplished the task at hand and he flew out of the pool after practice, bound over to his mom, face beaming, asking, “Did you see me?! Did you see me?!” She was as excited and proud as he was… and I was, too. He promised me he’d spend the entire next practice in the water.
So, tonight was our first night back. I've thought about Nick a lot over the past few days. My big concern is not really about helping him get over his fear, as I'm reasonably sure I can do that. But I've been worried that he'd feel out of place, since all the other kids in the group are so much younger than he is. I don't want his embarrassment to hold him back. So before we got in the pool this evening, I called him over to talk to me, telling him I had a huge favor to ask of him. I explained that there were just too many little kids for me to watch on my own and I really needed help, so did he think he might like to be my assistant coach? Let me tell you, he just glowed! And what an amazing job he did! Even though I know he was scared, he demonstrated everything I wanted the kids to do and was so proud of himself. He was so helpful with the little kids, too, praising them profusely and telling them not to be afraid. Watching and listening to him, I got all choked up. When we got out of the water, he gave me a big hug and told me he couldn’t wait ‘til tomorrow’s practice.
And you know what? I can’t either. I love my little sinkers… but that kid? That kid is no sinker. He’s going swim… mark my words!