I don’t have many vivid memories of my life before I turned 5. There are some fuzzy bits here and there, like the times I used to engage in epic sword fights with my brother in the bedroom of my grandparents’ apartment. I remember going to McDonald’s a lot. And I think we used to watch this creepily bizarre show on tv where the characters would eat mice for fun. Clearly we weren’t big on censorship back in those days.
But there are a few moments that I remember with remarkable clarity.
We were at the beach and my dad brought me for a swim in the water. He had me in his arms and we were having a good time splashing around when for a brief moment, I went under the water. It was no more than a few seconds tops but those seconds felt like an eternity. I remember the burning in my throat as I swallowed mouthfuls of the salty sea water. I remember tasting the water and thinking that I’ve never tasted anything so salty and foul in my life. I remember how cold the water was. And most of all, I remember the awful, paralyzing terror of at the thought that I was going to drown.
Several years later, I eventually learnt how to swim but till this day, I hate the sea. I don’t care how clear and beautiful the water is. I hate how salty it tastes and I’m terrified that I’ll be attacked by horrible sea creatures.
Recently, we started the kids on swimming lessons. It started out fairly well, where they learnt how to blow bubbles and do the hand motion for the breast stroke. Then they progressed to swimming short distances without swimming aids. It was a really short distance like an arm’s length from the edge of the pool but they were supposed to do it on their own.
Kirsten took a deep breath and flailed her way to the edge. She got submerged, drank some water but she got out, rubbed her nose, smiled and was ready to go again.
Truett did the same thing but halfway in, he suddenly realized that he was all alone in the water and completely panicked. So when it was time for the next lap, he clung on to the instructor and refused to let go. She was all like “you’ve got to let go I’m holding you…” but Tru kept asking, “are you going to let go of me?” I think she was trying to motivate him with reverse psychology because she said “If you keep asking me, I’m going to really let go of you.” And she did. Just for a brief moment.
For 3 nights in a row after that, he woke up screaming in the middle of the night. The third night, I held him for almost 15 minutes while he cried and cried and cried uncontrollably. Finally, after he stopped, he said that he dreamt he was stuck in the water. Then in a quiet voice, he asked, “Can I stop swimming classes? I think I don’t want to go anymore.”
My inner tiger mom wanted to teach him to to face his fears like a man. I mean, tons of kids have learnt to swim that way – by getting thrown into the water. Besides, Kirsten is a year younger and she’s doing fine.
But I saw the very same look of terror in his eyes and all of a sudden, I remembered exactly how it felt to be terrified of drowning as a kid. So we held him and told him it was ok if he wanted to stop his swimming lessons. We would pick them up again when he’s ready to give it another go.