Tuesday, 8 December 2015

When swimming tastes like chicken

Yesterday... all my troubles seemed so.... insurmountable.

And today? Not much different.

This, my dear friends, is what sleeplessness does to me. Last night I didn't sleep well because I'd got myself so overwrought that despite falling asleep easily, once I woke at 5:15, that was it. The night before? Inexplicable insomnia, followed by a scant few hours sleep and then far too swiftly by LittleBear coughing. The night before that? LittleBear coughing. The night before that? LittleBear and BigBear coughing. The night... oh sod it, you get the idea.

Yesterday was going beautifully, as our Mondays usually do. Monday is my favourite day with my LittleBear. On Fridays he's overtired and unmanageable after three days at nursery. The weekend is often a bit manic, but he catches up on rest, and Monday is just, well, lovely. While I made breakfast, LittleBear wrapped dinosaurs in baby blankets and put them under the Christmas tree to be presents for me to unwrap. We went to the library together, and even chose some non-dinosaur books. They were about ocean creatures instead, the secondary passion, but it was a pleasant change from dinosaurs. We spent hours reading dinosaur books and then Beatrix Potter books curled up on the bed after lunch. It was a lovely, and happy, and cuddly, and fun day.

Then we went swimming.

LittleBear loves swimming. He's so proud of himself, and so keen for approval, and so enthusiastic.

But... last week, for somewhat mysterious reasons, he developed A Thing. A Thing about jumping in. He's been jumping in for almost as long as he's been swimming. Either jumping to an adult who catches him, or jumping with a float round his body so he bobs straight back to the surface. Last week though, SmallGirl kicked up a fuss about jumping. So LittleBear kicked up a fuss. But LittleBear's fuss escalated, and escalated and there was screaming and sobbing and cajoling and threatening, and still he wouldn't jump in. The teacher picked him up and dropped him in. Which did not exactly pour oil on troubled waters.

It's not the approach I would have taken, but then I'm pretty softly-softly with LittleBear, and that's what he's used to, and I think the rather more forthright approach was unexpected and distinctly un-calming. But it's not my lesson, I'm not in charge, and I can't over-rule the teacher. I gave LittleBear one last chance to jump of his own accord, and then it was the ultimate sanction... a sad face on his sticker chart. And a sad face means no treat at the weekend. Unsurprisingly, as LittleBear was beyond reason by this point, there was no treat at the weekend.

Fast forward to this week....

We've spent all week talking about how we're going to have a great time at swimming. Talking about how LittleBear always used to jump further than anyone else. Talking about how brilliant he is at jumping. Talking about not wanting to lose another treat.

Did it work?

Did it buggery.

LittleBear was happy as a dog with two tails, right up until the moment he had to get in the pool. Then he started to cry, thinking he had to jump. He didn't have to jump, he just had to climb in, but the rot had set in. The whole lesson then went swimmingly (geddit?) with beaming smiles, enthusiasm, and the bubbling joy I love to see on my baby's face. 25 minutes of delight, followed by 5 minutes utter hysterical sobbing on the poolside. Once again the teacher forcibly got him in (this time jumping in while holding him). Once again that was completely useless at getting him to do it himself.

And thus we reached an impasse. Teacher said he had to stay till he jumped in. I said he would lose his treat this weekend if he didn't jump in. Teacher said if he didn't jump today he would have to come back on Thursday and jump in ten times instead. And so I ended up with a sodden, sobbing, snotty, wretched child curled up on my lap, shaking and asking pathetically "will I ever be able to go home?" We stayed till the end of the next lesson. We stayed until LittleBear was calm and cuddled and loved in my arms. I went past angry, through cajoling, beyond reasoning and into rocking, soothing and assuring my baby that he was loved, no matter what. But somewhere in the middle of there, I stood firm on losing his treat if he didn't jump. It's what we'd agreed.

And there's the trouble. I should never have threatened that. Because this weekend's treat is going to the Natural History Museum. We have a hotel booked for the night. We have a lovely friend who's taking a day off work to meet us there. We have another lovely friend who works there who's letting us in early. (I have lovely friends. Thank you lovely friends.) We've been planning this for months and me and LittleBear have been so looking forward to it. And we are going to go. Obviously we're going to go. But I've now engineered this stupid situation where I've said he can't. And now I have to engineer a way so that he can. So, just me and LittleBear are going swimming together on Friday and I'll make sure that whatever he does is good enough to count as earning his treat again.

I just wish I could take back what I said. I wish I could undo the anger. I wish I could not react so bloody fast. I wish I could be the better person. I know better. I know that when he's beside himself with distress there is absolutely no point in any threat or bargain. Nothing will get through, and I'm left with whatever I said. I know that making an issue out of something just creates a Bigger Thing. And before you know it, we've created another chicken*. And I so do not want swimming to become a chicken. I want him to still enjoy it, have fun, splash around, be a little boy enjoying the water.

I drove home from swimming with a reconciled LittleBear but with tears burning down my cheeks, desperately trying to control my sobs as I wondered how I had allowed things to turn so downright ugly. Wondering if I should even be taking my lovely boy swimming with someone who's prepared to throw him into the pool, despite his sobbing. Wondering whether I'm being too much of a helicopter parent in trying to protect him from anything he doesn't like. Wondering whether swimming is now ruined forever. Wondering how I could still take my beautiful boy on his adventure to London. Wondering how to make sure our outing is still something fun and exciting without any horrible associations about getting shouted out. Wondering where today all went wrong.

And then my LittleBear piped up from the back seat "Mummy? I love you." And I just cried more.

And I cried all evening.

And I cried this morning.

And I'm crying writing this.

And I lay in bed in the small hours, with every moment of the swimming lesson playing over and over in my head and wondering where we go from here. Whether we sign up for next term's classes with the same teacher, and take the risk that LittleBear still won't jump and that the teacher will throw him in and make him scared and unhappy and Everything Will Be Ruined Forever. Or whether we sign up for a different teacher on a different day, or is that just running away from the problem, letting LittleBear dodge something that he "should" be facing and Everything Will Be Ruined Forever. Or whether we give up on lessons altogether and then Everything Will Be Ruined Forever. And wondering whether it's already too late, LittleBear is spoilt and too accustomed to getting his own way, and never does what he's told, and Everything Is Already Ruined Forever.

Me? Catastrophising? I don't know what you mean. And I refuse to acknowledge all the occasions when LittleBear is beautifully behaved, and does what I ask him to do, and is helpful and kind, and makes presents for me, and says that we can pretend to be penguins together when we go swimming "because penguins are your favourite thing Mummy".

My boy is beautiful and wonderful and I love him more than I can even begin to put into words, and I just want to do the right thing, and damn it, I don't know what the "right thing" is, and I really don't know how to function when I don't know what the "right thing" is. Especially when I'm tired.

* I have, at various points, tried so many ways and means to get LittleBear to eat chicken that it has now become a Huge Thing. He is now so certain that he Does Not Like Chicken, that there is nothing on earth that will persuade him to allow any to touch his plate, let alone cross his lips.

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