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Facing your fears — Mommy Daze

SwimmingFearsI don’t think I ever quite knew what fear was until I became a parent.

Maybe it’s the protective mama bear syndrome that kicks in, or the hormones, but either way I have all these new fears when it comes to my child’s well-being, comfort and happiness. I don’t spend every waking moment worrying about my children. I have a strong faith and a strong support group of friends and family. But sometimes I just have these moments of raw fear and panic when it comes to my boys.

Sometimes it lasts only seconds, like when I’ve lost sight of them in a public place or I see them about to fall on the playground. Sometimes it lasts weeks, like leading up to that first day of school or before the first dentist appointment — those times when you know your kid may potentially freak out. I realize there will be many, many more fears to come, especially as they get older and start doing more dangerous things like sports, overnight trips without me and driving. But for now, I’m taking one fear at a time and learning how — as a caring and faithful mama — I can overcome them.

Recently my oldest son and I overcame our own fears together through the same experience. James hates the idea of swimming without his Puddle Jumper life jacket, and I hate the idea of having to make him take a class.

I’ve had James in the water since he was a baby, because we have an in-ground pool in our backyard. He loves being in the water, but has always detested water in his face. At age 4, he just learned to deal with getting his hair washed in the bath.

Last summer, we went to weekly swim lessons at a friend’s pool where some days he wouldn’t even get in the water. His dedicated, kind instructors patiently worked with him week after week. Finally by the end, he was enjoying playing in the water. He wasn’t quite swimming, and still got upset if he was made to go underwater, but he was in the pool without his Puddle Jumper and having fun. So to me, it was a success.

Over the winter, I considered signing him up for swim lessons, but any time I mentioned the idea he would completely melt down. But then spring came and our pool would be opened soon, and suddenly, there was the fear. Even though we have a fence around the pool with locks on the gates, I can’t help but imagine the worst case scenarios. Sometimes I think that’s nature’s way of making sure our kids survive. I decided to face my own fears of how my son would handle swim lessons, and signed him up.

The next question was where to take him. All of my friends have had their kids in swim lessons, and they have primarily used two private instructors. One of the instructors they described as being “really fun and nice” and the other as “no-nonsense, stern and sometimes terrifying” yet very successful. My fearful side was telling me to sign James up for the instructor who would sing songs, play with toys and splash around on the steps with him, but my gut instinct said that James’s strong personality calls for a strong instructor.

I recently witnessed a sports class in which the coach is a stereotypical booming-voiced, drill sergeant. He totally yells at the kids to stop goofing off one second, and then tosses their giggling bodies into the air the next. They all love him! I’m totally terrified of him. They listen and follow direction, but have a blast at the same time. That’s what I needed for James to learn how to swim.

So I signed him up with the stern instructor and, taking the advice of friends, didn’t tell James about it. I was so anxious driving there. I changed James into his swim suit in the van right before, telling him we were going to a fun “swim play date” with new friends. He was instantly suspicious, asking me a barrage of questions as we walked up to the private pool where a group of preschool-aged kids were strapping on fins and jumping into the water.

The instructor greeted us jovially, and I could tell James liked her loud, happy demeanor. But then she told him to come over and get in the water with her. Nope, he wouldn’t have it. He ran crying over to me. With a knowing smile, the instructor walked over and quickly but gently pried my screaming, crying son out of my arms and carried his kicking body into the water. She called over his shoulder to me, “They all start this way. It’s gonna be okay!”

She handed him to her assistant, who playfully pulled him around in the water. I was grateful to have sunglasses on as tears streamed down my face. Every part of me wanted to dive in and rescue my child from his own fears. But instead, every time he locked eyes on me, I’d light up with a big smile and give two thumbs up. I kid you not, in less than five minutes, he had stopped crying and was paddling around!

They put beginner floats on his arms, goggles on his head and flippers on his feet. Every few minutes the instructor would scoop him up, tell him to take a big breath, dunk him under the water and when he came up, encouraged him to spit water on her face. He loved it. He was giggling, laughing and putting his face underwater. She’d bark orders at him one second, then get him to laugh the next.

At the end of the 30-minute class, he was so incredibly proud of himself. On the drive home, he was really quiet. When I tried to talk to him, he hushed me and said, “Mom, I’m thinking about my swim class.” He told me about how afraid he had been to swim, but he felt like God was there swimming with him and now he was so brave.

That night, he wore his goggles in the bath and loved showing his brother how he could put his face under and open his eyes. He asks me every day if today is his swim class. I’m so grateful we both faced our fears. We’re braver because of it.

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Watts edited W

Mandy Watts is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Crownsville with her husband, Justin, who runs their family business, and their two sons, 4-year-old James and 2-year-old Luke.

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