Overcoming Fear

When I was a child I hated swimming lessons.  Hate really isn’t a strong enough word for the memories I have.  My first swimming teacher was strict, hard, and had exacting standards.  Everything I needed really.  But I could never overcome my water phobias enough to meet her standard and pass.  I have no idea how many summers I spent in Beginners.   It seems like about 5, but I know that’s not mathematically possible.

So when our girls started to come of age for swimming instruction I wanted something completely different.  The high school daughter of a fellow church family and a client of Matt’s was teaching lessons in their back yard.  She was sweet, mild, and wonderfully encouraging.  Perfect!  The first two girls did wonderfully under her instruction!  And then there was Chandler.

Chandler has issues with the water, and unfortunately, I often forget the reason for them.  I don’t know why, but the memory of Chandler bobbbing, struggling, clawing for the top of the water in a friend’s pool where she climbed in without her floaties is not burned into my mommy brain like so many other parts of her life.  Maybe it’s because she’s caused so many scares that part of my brain is full.  Maybe it’s because she was fine once we got her arm and pulled her out.  Maybe it’s because I’m a terrible mother.  She couldn’t have been much over one when it happened.  But apparently she was old enough that it left a permanent impression because she is terrified of water.  She’s fine with it on her own terms.  But take her to the deep end and it.is.over.  This is an important thing to remember when enrolling her in swimming lessons.

She threw a fit when our friends’ sweet daughter attempted to take her to the deep end a few years ago.  She threw a hideous fit last summer when we pressured her to jump off the diving board at another friend’s pool.  (In our defense, we knew she was able to swim; she did not believe it herself.)  I knew we needed someone tougher than that third born child to teach her to swim.

Enter my running buddy, Nikki.  She has been helping kids learn to swim for years.  I had heard legendary stories of how tough (but great) she is.  Totally not what I wanted for my kids.  Oh, and to get a spot in her classes, you have to stay up until midnight on some arbitrary night in March to sign up.  Otherwise all the slots will be full.  Definitely not ever doing that!  Until this year.  Because I knew she was exactly the type of teacher I wanted for these last two kids.

The first day the four year old cried and screamed and refused to do anything she was told.  I was slightly surprised as she normally loves the water, but she’s four and that’s the way she operates sometimes.  We talked all that Monday about how the next day would be different and when she could go a whole lesson without any screaming or crying, we would get ice cream.  (I am not above bribery when necessary.)  Tuesday was some wimpering, but it was only about 75 degrees outside, so the pool was considerably warmer than the side she spent most of the lesson sitting on!  She got a cherry limeade for not screaming.  Wednesday she went through her lessons with a smile and was rewarded with a yummy McDonald’s ice cream cone.  Ellie made it through the remaining eight lessons without a tear or complaint.  There were moments I could tell she was working hard to overcome her natural fears, but she did it and I was so proud of her.

The first two days Chandler did fabulously.  I couldn’t have been prouder.  She did everything she was asked and I thought her lessons were going to be a breeze.  Enter Wednesday when something possessed her to behave like a stuck pig and scream and squeal and RUN from Nikki and the diving board until she found herself cornered on the deck and had no choice but to submit.  I found myself wanting to crawl under said deck and die from shame.  I don’t know what happened and I do know what happened.  She was tired.  I hate that excuse, especially for any child past the stage of daily naps.  But it’s true.  Chandler falls apart if she doesn’t have enough sleep and the night before she didn’t.  I’m really not much better, so I sympathize.  And, for one reason or another, that fear in her welled up and could not be contained.

We talked long that day about right behavior and wrong behavior and how the next day would go.  Thursday was an improvement.  Friday was altogether wonderful.

I watched over ten days as my girls wrestled with their fears and their emotions and learned to control them. I could see on their faces the exhaustion or the panic and the internal wrestling to do the right thing.  I teared up many times as I saw their courage.  I watched as Chandler overcame her intense fear of deep water and learned to jump off the board and swim two lengths of the pool and then swim two more shortly after.  I watched her learn to control her fear as she learned to tread water and keep her head up.  I watched her swim farther at the public pools and the lake with her new confidence.  And I watched with great motherly pride as she passed her class the first time through.

Over the past two weeks, Chandler has not only learned how to swim better.  She has learned that she can control her emotions and that she can overcome her fears.  That alone was worth any amount of money.

On a different note, I was so impressed by my friend and her ability to handle those children.  She is tough.  And she doesn’t put up with any nonsense.  But she clearly cared about each child there and the smile on her face when they accomplished something was almost as amazing and joyful as the child’s.  So thanks, Nikki.  I know the past two summers have been hard but I am so thankful my girls had the chance to learn from you.

Ellie waiting her turn

Ready for a kneeling dive

Ready for some really uncoordinated swimming moves 🙂

On the board

This was a big accomplishment!

Back stroke - sort of

Chandler waiting her turn

Swimming the length of the pool unaided

And swimming back

Chandler's turn off the board

Back stroke

Back stroke again

Ellies "Grade Card"

Chandler's "Grade Card" - Still so proud of both of them

2 thoughts on “Overcoming Fear

  1. Such a great post Sara!

    “She has learned that she can control her emotions and that she can overcome her fears.” This is exactly what happened with Miles. Nikki and I had talked at length back in feb/march about it, and she assured me it would happen. And honestly, at lessons I was thinking to myself, if this is ALL we get, I am fine with that. But the Sunday after two weeks of lessons, he walked alone into sunday school without a tear. We were in awe. Rex says, “nikki cured him!”

    We feel so fortunate that our children are able to learn from her.

  2. Oh my word! You both made me bawl like a baby. Your words are very touching and bless me tremendously. What an honor and pleasure it has been to teach all of your children. I love what I do and I am glad it shows. I am also very proud and excited to see the progress all of your kids have made. That is what makes my job so awesome is to see them overcome fears and doubts about their abilities and learn to soar. And I know they will be a lot safer around water. Thanks again for everything!

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