My son has a love/hate relationship with water. He loves running into the ocean and playing in the surf, but pools are a different story. Sometimes he’s all about them, jumping in and splashing around. He knows how to climb out by himself, and has been known to run around the pool while his frantic mom struggles to climb out herself and chase after him. He loves jumping in, into our waiting arms. At a friend’s pool on Labor Day, he became obsessed with the slide, which of course was in the deep end. I clung to the side of the pool to catch him as he slid in, while still somehow keeping myself from going under. It was terrifying.
But one pool experience he has always hated has been swim class. He screamed all through his first series of parent/child classes. Literally every single class he would cry for half an hour. Although I thought about pulling him out, the head of the swim school convinced me to stick with it and push through this difficult period. Sure enough, he did seem to eventually enjoy it, splashing around and floating on his back contentedly. He learned the aforementioned skill of climbing out (which could save his life) and enjoyed jumping back in.
We continued two more sessions of parent/child classes until he could scoop and kick (i.e. move his arms and legs) on his own. So it was time to move up to a “transition” class, in which I was to start off in the pool with him but would eventually move to the side and let the instructor take over. LM also has to wear a “bubble,” which he’d tried during parent/child but hated. Now it was pretty much a requirement.
We also changed locations so that LM could be in a class with two of his friends, who are both more advanced swimmers than he is. I wasn’t sure if this was good or bad — maybe it would push him to imitate them, or maybe he’d be left behind as the other kids got all the attention.
The pool was located in a fitness club in a nice hotel. The locker room was big enough to change the kids, and the pool was nice and warm (problems at previous locations included lack of changing space and cold water). But, it was also busier, with hotel guests and fitness club members sharing the space. A lane was blocked off for the swim class.
Because of LM’s newfound affinity for water, I thought he’d do OK. But at the start of our first class, as soon as I put the bubble on him, he began to yell. I got in the water after him (my next mistake — I should have gotten in first), but it was too late: The cranky switch had been flipped. LM would not tolerate the bubble so I took it off, but the screaming continued. He would not leave my arms to go to the instructor. I tried my best to get him to be happier in the water to no avail.
Suddenly, a voice behind me said, “Maybe you should just take him out of the pool.” I looked over my shoulder to see an older woman whose shirt read “Lifeguard.” Not to be ageist, but she was the oldest lifeguard I have ever seen.
Stunned, I stammered, “We’re here for swim class.”
“Well,” she said, “He’s making an awful lot of noise.”
As I stared open-mouthed, unsure of how to proceed, the instructor thankfully rushed to my defense. “He just needs to get used to it,” she said.
“He just seems so miserable,” mean lifeguard said. The instructor and I looked at each other and shrugged. Mean lifeguard walked away and sat down next to another older woman, and proceeded to glare at us the remainder of the class. Although I normally try to keep LM in a horizontal swimming position, I let him koala-cling to me to calm him down. I needed to calm down too.
I asked the instructor if LM’s crying was going to be a problem for the hotel, and she responded that they were paying to use the space so it shouldn’t be. But I continued to feel alternately mad and embarrassed for the remainder of the class.
Should I take him out? I wondered. Yes, he’s often miserable in swim class. But he doesn’t hate the water. If this were any other extracurricular activity, I’d allow his likes and dislikes to guide his involvement. But swim class is not just for fun — it’s for safety. Just as I look to get the safest car seat and baby proof and do whatever I can to keep him safe, he is going to learn how to swim, damn it. It could be a question of life or death if he ever accidentally fell in. So yes, he has to learn how to swim. I remembered the swim school owner’s words when I contacted her the first time we had an issue: Kids just have to get over the hurdle of fear in the water, which is hard at LM’s age. But we should press on.
I contacted the owner again to ask her how to handle this situation. Should we switch locations? I know LM was making a lot of noise. If I was a member of the fitness club or a hotel guest who was trying to have a relaxing swim in the pool or soak in the jacuzzi, I’d want that kid to shut the f*ck up. I’d be annoyed for sure. But if that’s the case, then the hotel should not agree to let the swim school use the pool, or they should close it to other guests for the designated swim school time. There is no way to guarantee that toddlers won’t cry during class. The swim school owner agreed, and said she couldn’t believe the lifeguard had interrupted the class to say something to me. She said she would handle it.
Since then, the mean lifeguard has continued to give me dirty looks during class, but hasn’t said anything further. LM seemed like he was getting used to the bubble, even allowing us to keep it on for the whole class. Then yesterday, he had an off day and proceeded to whine for the whole class. Whine, he did — but he also swam all by himself for the first time. So is this progress?
To the mean lifeguard: I would think that as a lifeguard, you of all people would recognize the importance of teaching kids to learn how to swim. I would think you would respect that the swim school is using the pool and has a right to do so. I would think if you had a genuine concern you would bring it up with the manager, who should be the one deciding what’s disruptive to the fitness club and warrants a discussion about the merits of having a swim school here, not you. The manager could also have a discussion with the swim school’s owner about whether this particular student should be moved to another location.
Instead, I feel your eyes boring into me every time I go there. Swim class is stressful enough without having to worry about you (or the other guests’ ) reaction to LM’s protests. Even though I have the right to be there, I’m considering switching. I’m worried that my apprehension is going to rub off on my son. And he needs all the positive swim vibes he can get.
Readers, what do you think — should I switch swim classes? How do you handle making your toddler do something he doesn’t want to do?