Sometimes the Sidelines Are Best

www.melindawentzel.comTwo years ago my kids swam like stones. Stones both dense and unwieldy in nature. Stones destined for the bottoms of lakes and ponds and pools. And yet, there was an uncanny barnacle-ness about them as well (i.e. they desperately clung to whatever floatation device or seemingly tallish torso that happened to be handy—namely my husband’s or mine). Said buoyancy-challenged individuals were largely comfortable in swimming pools, so long as we stayed in the shallow end and refrained from making any sort of unreasonable requests—like suggesting they loosen their death grip around our necks. Heaven forbid I tuck my hand beneath their bellies and let them kick and flop around in the water like everyone else on the planet with a penchant for becoming guppified.

That said, I’m not entirely sure my kids even wanted to learn to swim—like guppies or anything else equipped with fins and gills. Life was perfectly perfect coiled inextricably around someone’s head, neck and shoulders, their smallish bodies submerged just enough to enjoy a taste of refreshing coolness, while a goodly portion remained above the water’s surface, safe and sound from the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad abyss that surely sought to harm them.

For a time (read: an obscenely large chunk of their lives), we allowed such an idiotic practice to continue, doing our level best to enable our children and to accept the Island of Dependency we had inadvertently become. Of course, we fully expected a miracle to befall us. A miracle that would effectively save us from ourselves. Out of the blue, our charges would suddenly abandon their fears and start swimming like fish or, more correctly, like porpoises, plunging headlong into the murky depths in search of silvery prizes and whatever else they felt inclined to fetch from the deck of the Titanic. Through osmosis, our aquatic wonders would absorb every speck of knowledge and skill I had acquired as a lifeguard, and then some. They’d even be strangely adept at twirling whistles around their fingers and hauling greased watermelons across vast stretches of open water—talents that smack of impressiveness but have yet to be deemed useful.

But it was not to be. Eventually my husband and I faced the cold, hard truth. Hopes and dreams didn’t make good swimmers. Lessons did. Lessons involving a lot of hard work, a boatload of skilled instructors from whom praise flowed endlessly and a vat of courage—mostly of the parental variety. That said, it takes superhuman strength and nerves of steel to sit back idly and watch one’s beloved progeny flap and flounder as he or she goes about the important business of learning how to swim. It’s true: Kids panic. Kids swallow a disturbing amount of water. Kids stare at you from the deep end with horrified expressions of “How COULD you?!” and “Are you really my mother?!”

Not surprisingly, parents twist and turn uncomfortably in their seats, wearing nervous smiles and attempting to chat casually. Yet deep inside—awash with guilt and filled with doubt—they harbor pure and unadulterated torment. Or maybe that was just me, squirming in my lawn chair in a futile attempt to silence the voices in my head that relentlessly screamed, “Your child is DROWNING for Crissakes! And all you can do is swat flies and admire your tanned toes?! What kind of parent are you anyway?! You font of wickedness!” More than anything I felt helpless—almost beside myself with the idea of being on the sidelines.

And yet, that was where I needed to be. The place where I was, in fact, most effective. I needed to have faith in the process. Faith in the instructors. Faith in my children’s ability to succeed—in spite of the dearth of achievement I had witnessed thus far. And succeed they did. They’ve ditched the semblance of stones and barnacles for good and have since transformed into more guppy-ish creatures, completely thrilled with their newfound ability to swim, “…even in the deep end, Mom!”

Aside from seeing actual results in the pool, I know this much is true because we’ve progressed from comments like, “I hope you know this is PURE TORTURE, Mom!” to “Can’t you just LEAVE ME HERE so I could swim ALL DAY, EVERYDAY?!”

Yep. Sometimes the sidelines are best.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (mostly on the sidelines). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel

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