Monday, June 8, 2009

Sink or swim

The kids are having swim lessons over at the brand new aquatic center of the private college across the railroad tracks. Archer had lessons for a week last year and was doing great until that one time he jumped into the instructor's arms -- and the instructor let him go under for a second before grabbing him. It was a calculated move to help him get his head underwater, but it spooked him. He wouldn't jump at all after that. And he's scared to death of putting his head under.

Cady Gray is taking her first lessons. She's a rank beginner, but she's excited about learning. After her first excursions out and back with the instructor holding her so she could kick and pump her arms, she hopped over to me, barely able to contain herself. "Did you see that I even swam with my arms? And I got my ears wet?"

Archer, on the other hand, is in a group of other seven- and eight-year-olds. They're already good swimmers, while he's hanging onto the wall trying to muster up the courage to get his nose under water. The instructor spent a lot of one-on-one time with him, but at the end of the lesson, he went off with the other pupils to jump off the diving board and freestyle in the deep end, and Archer's time was up.

On the way home, Cady Gray was enthusing about how much she loves swimming lessons. Meanwhile, Archer was trying to lowball his own expectations. "I think I got about a 34%," he said. "60% is passing. What happens if I don't get 60%?" "You keep practicing," I told him. "This isn't a test. There's no deadline. You just keep practicing until you get it." "What if I don't put my head underwater?" he persisted.

I know where he's coming from. I have a fear of failure, too. I'd rather not try if I have a suspicion I can't do it.

It's not like I have anything particular invested in his swimming. Really, all I want is for him to be able to dogpaddle his way to safety if he falls in to a body of water. But as kids grow up and become part of peer groups with activities and birthday parties and field trips, you start to worry that they won't be able to fully participate in their own childhood without certain essential skills.

I try not to stress about these kinds of things. Archer will acquire the skills he wants to acquire, in a timeframe set by his own motivation. I'm seeing that already this summer with his dedication to mastering Wii games. That's a physical discipline to which he's decided to apply himself, and it's paying off handsomely and quickly -- more so than I ever would have expected.

These big physical milestones, though -- riding a bike, swimming, someday making a basket or a catch -- they loom. I need some help staying positive, and helping my boy to do the same, in the face of hurdles we'd rather run around.


Adam Villani said...

Just an idea, but maybe go all the way and show him how fun swimming underwater is.

Kerry said...

I didn't take swimming lessons until later in life, in my teens. I was always scared I couldn't swim, and then I discovered when they were "teaching" me that I really already could. That said, I still don't much care for the water -- I don't like water in my eyes, and I don't like being wet after I leave the water. But I survived childhood swimming parties and lake excursions without any problems. I just tended to stay in the shallow water or along the side of the pool, which is safer anyway. :)

Archer is really sharp. I'm always impressed by him, especially with my experiences with other autistic children. I believe in him -- he will reach his milestones, especially with such a supportive environment. He is very blessed, just as you are to have him. *smiles*

doafy said...

Oh, man, I can relate to stressing over swimming lessons. I spent many summers taking swimming lessons at the Olympic Pool here in Long Beach, and I spent most of that time scared out of my mind.

I have a debilitating, totally irrational fear of sharks. It's so bad that baths scared me as a kid. Swimming pools, especially Olympic-sized swimming pools, were even worse, as sharks would actually *fit* in them. Add to that a scary billboard with an octopus on it on the way to the pool, and synchronized swimmers practicing with their feet sticking up with sad music playing in the background, and I was a basketcase. (Sad music+feet in air=death to a 5-year-old mind)

I was the last in my class to "swim" in my own (I doggie paddled), and I have never been a strong swimmer.

I did learn, though, even though I wasn't any good. I think that happened through fear of humiliation more than anything else.

I swam very little until I was in my teens. Then I discovered that I could, in fact, swim ok if I just put my darn face in the water.

I still stick mostly to the shallow end, in case I get a shark-panic, but I really do enjoy being in a pool. Strangely, I can tread water really well. My swimming lessons were totally worth not being afraid of drowning in the pool (as if sharks weren't enough!) Swimming lessons are worth it, even if you don't join the swim team.

So Archer probably doesn't have my problem, but I feel his pain. Goggles might help because then it doesn't hurt to put your face in the water, and that lessens the fear quite a bit. Then he might be able to try Adam's suggestion.

*As a side note, I have much less trouble being in the ocean, even though I am fully aware that that is where sharks actually exist.