Swimming Lessons Should Start in the Bathtub

My little guy just stared at his belly, the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The first day of my 3-year-old’s swimming class, most of the kids cried.

Everyone was happy until it was time to get into the water at the Atlantic Rec Center in Fernandina Beach, and then the meltdowns began. One boy had to be dragged, literally, into the pool. Another kid never made it in: he just sat near the steps and watched.

Somehow, though, my son topped them all. He kept the crying up until finally his instructor brought him to me halfway through.

“I think he’s had enough for the first day,” she said.

Thankfully, she had an idea. She told me to bring one of his favorite bath toys the next day.

Sure enough, a little plastic boat worked wonders for my son, and the crying mercifully stopped by the end of the second class. But the little guy still didn’t take to the water as easily as the other 3- and 4-year-olds, and it turns out it was sort of my fault. I’ve never pushed him to get comfortable in the water… not even in the bathtub, where he screams bloody murder if water gets into his eyes.

On day three, when he still refused to put even his chin in the water, his teacher asked me, “Don’t you ever have him blow bubbles in his bathwater?”

Nope.

We left class with a homework assignment: blow bubbles at bath time, and pour a cup of water over his head so he could practice keeping his eyes open.

On day four, my son finally decided to try. He blew bubbles. He leaned back and kicked his feet while an instructor pulled him around the pool. He even willingly popped underwater with his teacher, never mind that he came up coughing and mad.

During his final class the next day, I watched my son stand in a poolside line, waiting for his turn to jump into his teacher’s arms. The children around him were all talking at once and having a hard time standing still. The kid who was dragged into the pool on the first day did a cannonball. My little guy just stood quietly, staring down at his belly as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders. But when his turn came, he jumped, and he came out of the water beaming.

Months later, my son still gets a little nervous whenever we drive down Atlantic Avenue.

“We’re not going to swim class today, are we Mommy?” he always asks.

The answer: sure we are. Just as soon as I draw him a bath.

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