June 24, 2010

“Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

Being a parent teaches me a lot of things.  And the greatest of these lessons are always the ones that surprise the hell out of me.

We finally got around to getting our kids (ages 6, 5 and 5) into swimming lessons this week.  We’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but a combination of their reticence and our procrastination held us up until the moment when they all agreed to give it a try and I actually signed them up.

The first lesson did not go well.  Girl #1 sobbed at least three times as the patient instructor gently pulled her around in the too-deep-for-a-5-year-old end of the pool.  I watched this through a glass window one level up and could still hear the faint sound of that very familiar wail.  She pulled it together to continue her lesson and I stayed put believing that if I came within her view she would never get back in that pool again.

After her lesson, she spent most of her waking moments campaigning to get out of swim class.  Whether she realizes it or not, I can’t MAKE her participate.  And the more contentious I get with the “we paid for it, you’re going” or bribes or consequences, the more miserable the whole thing will be for all of us.

So I stalled.  Stalling is a powerful tactic for parents and children.  We hate it when the other does it, but it often buys us time to ponder.  I’m a big fan of pondering.  But as I pondered whether I could get a refund and how to avoid her fear multiplying before trying lessons again, she pondered another notion.

Late yesterday she came to me with her most serious face and said, “Mom, I think I’ll go back to swimming lessons after all.”  Long serious pause…“Because I want to learn to swim in the deep part.”  She paused again, looked out the window and bit her lower lip.  “And I’m going to try really hard NOT to cry.”

I can try all day long to push and pull and encourage or discourage my kids, but there is nothing more potent to their growth than internal motivation.  And as I watched my daughter’s determined face, I vowed to keep my mouth shut so as not to mess up that moment.