Having spent the last 4 nights struggling to get to sleep as I lay awake fretting about What Next With Swimming, I was a bit tired and emotional about the whole thing. The more days that passed the more of a Big Thing it was becoming in my mind. But, today was the day. Today I took LittleBear swimming.
We went to the local municipal pool, which has a teaching pool, a main pool and a "toddler" pool, for non-swimming under-8s. It's a lovely, super-warm little pool. Actually it's three little pools, one 0.4m deep, one 0.5m deep and one 0.65m deep, with various ledges round the edges, and fountains, jacuzzi-bubbles and waterfalls here and there. The three pools are also set at different heights, with slopes in between that the water pours down, to make slides for little people.
LittleBear had said "I promise, promise, promise that I will jump in and you catch me Mummy". And he'd also said we were going to have lots of fun. But, the fearful beast in me had heard promises before, and wasn't wholly convinced. After all, LittleBear really doesn't like getting his head wet much, doesn't ever want to go underwater, hates putting his face in the water, and has this New Thing about jumping.
After an hour and a half in the pool, I could only persuade him to leave and stop pretending to be a penguin diving for fishes by telling him I had a chocolate in my bag and that we could come back next week. And even that resulted in a trembling bottom lip and welling tears as next Friday is not soon enough and it's woeful and terrible and awful that we can't come on Monday because we'll be at the Natural History Museum instead. Seriously.
I have never seen my little baby so confident in the water, never seen him so happy playing in a pool, never known him so delighted to go under. I could barely convince him to stay at the surface for long enough to catch a breath before he plunged his head in to go "fishing". We were being Emperor penguins together, he was the male penguin, I was the female and we were taking it in turns to go to the Great Ocean (the 0.4m pool) to get fish for our chick and tobogganing down the slides on our tummies to bring the fish back to the nesting ground (the 0.65m pool). Sometimes we went together and left a Weddell seal looking after our chick. ("The Weddell seal is invisible Mummy".)
Every now and then I got him to "swim" the length of the biggest of the pools, both hands out in front, resting on my arm, legs kicking like fury, or on his back, my hand under the back of his head.
And we got permission from the lifeguard to go and jump into the big pool. He suddenly started backing away, saying he didn't want to, looking scared, but I gave him a big cuddle and reminded him of his promise and that I would definitely, definitely catch him. And he overcame his fear. On his own. No threats, no berating, no raised voices. I stood as close to him as he wanted for his first jump, and he did it. And then he did another one "for Daddy" and a third one "for Granny". And we cuddled and celebrated and I told him that I was proud of him.
"I know why you're proud of me Mummy. It's because you really want to go to the London Natural History Museum with me!"
"No my lovely, I'm proud of you because I know you were worried about jumping, but you did it anyway, and that's really brave of you, and that makes me proud."
"OK Mummy! I'm going to be a liopleurodon now!"
Not only am I immensely proud of my LittleWaterBear, I'm also so happy to have seen him happy in and under the water. And it cemented in my mind that he still learns best when given love and support and given the time and space to gain his own confidence and find his own abilities. And it made me realise that we really should go and have fun in the pool more often, not just rely on lessons, which are becoming more and more about following instructions, learning strokes, gaining specific skills and less and less about just messing around and feeling at home in the water. Both have their place, and I think both are going to be essential for having a happy, confident swimmer.
Now my challenge is which swimming class to sign him up for...
I have a really strong, visceral feeling that I don't want to take him back to throw-him-in teacher. But the other voice in my head reminds me how much LittleBear has loved this teacher so far, and how much fun he has had in his class. But... I don't think I trust him in his handling of my LittleBear any more...
Another option is a different teacher with the same organisation, on a different day, at a different pool. That dodges any negative associations LittleBear has started to build up. Except throw-him-in teacher will also be there, teaching a different class, and I can't help but feel that will be Horribly Awkward and potentially lead to Painful Questions (painful for me, that is). Obviously I'm so conflict-avoidant I will be claiming that we're changing class because it suits our schedule better, and not even consider mentioning to anyone that there is any other problem.
A third option is to stop having formal lessons for a term, and just have fun, then go back when LittleBear has forgotten there was ever a problem.
The fourth option is to bury my head in the sand and ignore the question, while allowing it to gnaw away at me and cause me stress and sleeplessness.
Can you guess which one I'm going to do? I think you can...
And to end on a lighter note... as we drove home and ended up stuck in traffic next to some street art of a scene of trees and birds, LittleBear looked out of the window and commented, "Mummy? I don't like birds as much as I like invertebrates."