Parents learn something new every day

2008-01-21 00:00

“Come on, Izz. You can do it. Move those arms. Kick.” My seven-year-old daughter was doing laps, and I wanted her to keep up with the other swimmers. She couldn’t.

Neither could she hear my frustration, because the swimming club would not allow parents near the pool. Parents waited in an enclosed glass balcony overlooking the water. Here we could watch, but not interfere with the lessons.

At the end of each session when the children were showering and getting ready for home, the swimming instructor would give each parent a brief progress report. Her words for me were always the same: “Isabelle’s technique is amazing. She’s not as strong as the others, but it will come.”

The other swimmers were three years older than my daughter; she had been placed with an advanced group because of her superior technique.

She liked the challenge. I was the one who was discouraged and frustrated. We were halfway through the season and although she had made progress, she could not keep up with the others during the endurance laps.

When she came up to greet me, ready to be hugged, I criticised her.

“Why didn’t you try to finish the lap? How hard could it have been?”

She said nothing. My words kept rushing out — assaulting, accusing. My daughter drew away from me, her little face defiant. “You can’t even swim,” she said.

Her voice was matter-of-fact, but I could feel the strength behind the words — and the wisdom. I wasn’t fearful of water, but she was right. I couldn’t swim. Her words stayed with me. I asked myself some serious questions: what does it take to learn something new? When was the last time I had taken on a challenge? Did it help when someone berated me?

I was pushing my daughter to do something I had never tried. What was more, I was not accepting her for who she was — a little girl.

Before next week’s lesson arrived, I enroled in a swimming class for adults. When my daughter went to do laps, I went to the smaller pool at the other end of the club to learn to float, breathe, kick, stroke and glide.

Each week, Isabelle and I emerged from our separate pools tired but happy. We shared what we had done, hugged and went out for a treat.

At the end of the eight-week session, I proudly showed her my first swimming badge.

“You can do laps with me now,” said my daughter.

No, not yet. I had made it across the pool, but couldn’t finish its length. My arms had felt like lead and my legs like rubber. The small pool was half the size of the Olympic-size pool where my daughter swam every week.

More important than the swimming badge, though, I had earned a “parenting badge”. I had plunged in and rediscovered the thrill and frustration of trying something new. My child was doing this every day — at the pool, at school, at home. Now, so was her mum.

— The Christian Science Monitor.

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