Swimming Lessons and What I'm Learning From Them

Today there is a voice in my head intoning this message: Try to remember what it’s like to be a kid. Seems like a simple, straightforward thing to do: conjure up a few happy memories -- the hush of the woods on a summer afternoon, the taste of ice cold watermelon, the feel of that first dive into a bright blue pool. No, the voice in my head says, try to remember what it’s REALLY like to be a kid.

It’s harder than it seems.

My brain is a fully-developed adult brain. It’s judgment centers are matured. It has a fully-developed sense of time. It plans and remembers and takes responsibility. It knows how to reason, how to read, and how to get through a difficult moment or day. It has impulse control, a well-developed vocabulary, and a large library of Lessons Learned. My body is a fully-developed adult body. It gets hungry on a regular schedule. It knows when it needs to go to the bathroom, far enough in advance to get there in time. It knows when it’s tired, and what to do about it. It rarely trips, stumbles, or falls. It knows how to tie. Oh, and incidentally, it knows how to swim, too.

Kids’ brains and bodies do not work like ours. They are just a few years into the approximately 25-year journey to adulthood. Take a moment: Can you imagine what it's like not to have the skills, knowledge, and freedoms we have as adults? When I try to imagine it, the world gets bigger, more mysterious, and less logical. I feel smaller and less sure about things. Things happen that I don't expect or anticipate. Yesterday seems like a long time ago, and tomorrow doesn't cross my mind. This is not all bad, of course; this is partly what gives us the great gift of childhood's innocence and the ability to live in the moment like kids so often do. But I'm quite sure it's not always easy, either.

The kids are taking swimming lessons this week and next, and swimming lessons got me started thinking about all this. As an adult, I am all gung-ho about swimming lessons. I think of it pragmatically: as an important life skill, a safety issue. Yes, I say to them, swimming lessons are hard work and sometimes you get a little chilled, but they’re worth it.

But then again, as an adult, I swim when I want to; not when my mom tells me to. I know from experience how fun it is once you are a really competent swimmer. I get out of the pool when I want to, before I get too cold. I understand that soon, after a hot shower, I will warm up again and feel great. I know my way through the locker room.

So when a little slip of a girl with blueberry lips and tears in her eyes is shivering at the side of the pool...

and when a big five-year-old boy seems to shrink a little at the men’s locker room door and asks, Which way do I go again?...

and when an almost eight-year-old says he doesn’t want to go tomorrow, and then tells about swimming up from the bottom of the deep end and breathing in a mouthful of water...

in those moments, and in others throughout the day, I am trying to remember what it’s really like to be a kid. I hope it makes me a better mom and a better person. And I hope the kids can sense my care and compassion.

Even though it’s back in the pool tomorrow.

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