this week we began swim lessons. neither of my bigs know how to swim or ride a bike and for some reason that makes me feel like i should have to hand in my mommy card. anyway, swimming is a safety issue so i packed the 6,752,198 items it takes to have two kids have lessons back-to-back while a toddler tries to singlehandedly take down the ymca. it started well; there was excitement as we rode straight from school to the Y, and the girls loved putting on summer wear like swimsuits, goggles, and flip flops.
then we stepped out to the pool.
“mommy, i don’t want to do this. i am scared.”
i’m not sure what i have shared here, but our sweet middle child Hazel has been really struggling with anxiety. it has been one of the most challenging years of my life and i don’t even have the energy to explain why; it is that kind of taxing. and i love her. i love her fiercely in a way that only a momma can, wanting health and beauty for her life. in that moment i see her eyes start and then her head goes down. she starts to get frantic because the only way she sees to remedy this painful feeling is flight. and so it is there that i meet her. after validating her feelings i tell her it is okay to be scared, even mommy gets scared and everybody she knows is scared of something. this was also one of the moments i tell her that even though i know she is scared and doesn’t want to do this, i want her to try and be brave.
we left the swimming pool area and watched from the snack area upstairs because the teacher and i had talked previously and agreed that she would do better if she didn’t see me. as i looked down through the glass walls she fought everything the instructor asked of her, but she did try some things. i was proud, clapping and cheering from above. nora may was shouting go hazey goooooo. hazel didn’t hear us or see us because there was glass in between, but you would have thought we were at the summer olympics with our cumulative enthusiasm.
then the teacher asked her to jump in the pool. this is one of hazel’s no-nos, as she doesn’t want her head to go under the water. the teacher held her hand and even though hazel was protesting the teacher helped her in the pool and let her head go under. (y’all i am weeping as i write this). she came up and clutched to her instructor and wailed. she didn’t want to and it was scary and she didn’t want to do it again. and the teacher told her she was proud of her for trying and she didn’t have to do it again. after witnessing this, it took every ounce of strength within me to let her finish the lesson.
when i came downstairs with my warm towel outstretched she started crying and shaking because i am her safe place and she feels okay losing it with me. this is my honor and privilege and also part of the reason i am pretty tired at the end of most days. i told her that i was watching and so proud of her because i knew the lesson was really hard for her, but i saw her being brave and trying things that were scary to her. she said it was scary and she didn’t want to do it again. i looked right at her and i said you did a really great job today and i know you didn’t want to do most of the things you tried, but you did it! and now you know more about the water and how to be safe in it and with each step like that we can become less afraid of the water and start to learn how to enjoy it.
so what i realized last night is that this is where a lot of us are right now. we are needing to learn something new and it is scary. we have put on our learning gear, stretched out and are ready for a new season, a new challenge or a new adventure. after buying an inappropriate amount of gear for something we do not even know how to do yet and trying to pump ourselves up, like hazel we step out and see the pool. we know we want to enjoy swimming but become scared of what can happen in the learning process. we may have to put our heads under water, we may have to let go of the instructor, we may have to try to do things we really, really don’t want to do.
hazel got a warm towel, an extraordinarily long hug and kisses from her mommy, and yummy pizza for dinner. you get these words. sometimes to get to the place we see so clearly in our minds we have to do things we don’t want to do now. sometimes the one who made you and sustains you asks you to walk through the hard to the other side. this is terrifying at times and there is no guarantee that the process will even seem worth it. it could even prove to be as horrible as you expected it to be, but it is a step. and taking a step means being brave.
For all of us who are frozen in our goggles, speedo, and flops may we see the water as the beginning of a new chapter of the book our life writes and not solely as the end of the chapter on safety. It is not bravery if you are not scared. When you begin to fear that the challenge is just as hard as you feared look up. We are cheering for you from the snack deck and hope your new chapter reads…
She saw the pool. She was frightened. And then she took a step toward the person she was ready to become.