I'm the kind of person who skips to the conversation when reading a book.
Confession: I am a softy.
I am a total marshmallow when it comes to making kids do things. (The only exception is when they are in danger. “GET OUT OF THE ROAD!” is non-negotiable when there is an oncoming vehicle.) I guess I believe that, the vast majority of the time, kids will do things when they are ready to do those things. It’s important for them to be allowed to do things on their time schedule, not mine.
Learning to swim is a case in point. With Level One lessons, I am fine letting them play on the steps. We play little games to put faces in the water and to float, but I’m not even remotely pushy. Play, have fun, come back next week — that would pretty much sum up my instruction with them.
Lately, I’ve had a very dear long-time friend, KT, helping me with my Level 1 class. She and I complement one another beautifully. I love working with her. For one thing, since KT came to help, the kids are advancing in their skills so much faster.
KT’s style is sterner. “I know you can put your face in the water,” she says to the little non-swimmer.
When their little mouths pucker up and their eyes start filling (and not with pool water), she says, “I know it’s scary, but you can do it.”
When they whine at her, “But I CAN’T do it!” —
She responds with a short, simple, “Yes, you can.” And then she waits them out, standing in front of them in the water.
She’s always right. They can indeed do it. And the joy on their faces is precious.
They eventually put their faces in the water for me, too. I just sometimes wait weeks, patiently playing and encouraging.
The other day was funny, though. KT and I both laughed and laughed about it. Class always ends with a jump from the side into the pool. This is an incredibly scary thing for some of them.
A few wave me aside. “I can do this myself,” they proudly say.
Others wave me closer, and closer, and closer, until I am literally holding their hands while they jump. I don’t mind. I figure that when they’re ready, they’ll jump alone.
While I am moving closer and closer because a little person is beckoning, KT stands her ground. “Nope,” she says. “You can do it. I’m right here to help you if you need it, but you don’t need me to hold your hand.”
So, the other day, our little class of five non-swimmers got out of the water to form two line for that final jump into the water. Four of the five stood in a line in front of me. One lonely little boy stood in front of KT. He looked at the other line and realized he had made a critical error.
“You’ll catch me, won’t you?” he asked KT.
“Nope,” she said. “I know you can do this.”
KT and I looked at each other and laughed. The little boy looked longingly at the other line.
I drew my “X” in the water for the first child to jump in and held out my arms. She beckoned me closer. I moved toward her and KT laughed again. “They’ve got your number,” she said.
“And they’ve got your number, too,” I called back, catching the little mermaid-wannabe who flung herself towards me.
Solitary boy made a move to come over to my line. “No, you don’t,” KT said.
I caught another little swimmer and he watched.
“But… but….” he said, trying to think of some really good reason why he should be with me.
Finally he was the only child waiting on the edge. KT waited patiently. I laughed.
And then, finally, he jumped. All by himself. Into the pool.
His smile, when he came up, was priceless.
There are days I wish I were more like KT, and yet, I think we balance each other quite well.
Who would you rather take swim lessons from?