Sunday, July 8, 2012

Of fear and water

The other day my older son Christopher complained that his hands were hurting him. That news didn’t faze me at all because I knew why his hands ached: He spent more than an hour clinging -- with a white-knuckled grip -- to the concrete edge of the pool at my sister-in-law’s house on the Fourth of July. (She and her husband hosted a family get-together, and the pool was the main attraction on a rather sultry day.)

Group swim lessons have helped him a little, but his fear remains. And that fear now seems to be contagious because my younger son Sean is also in full fear mode; he barely left the pool steps and resisted my attempts to help him relax and enjoy the water. Most of the time I was holding Sean, he had a death grip around my neck or arms. I have a few scratches on my back from his frantic attempts to hold onto me.

This summer we hired a babysitter – Michelle, a rising senior at St. Joe’s University who just so happens to be a former lifeguard. Fortunately, my sister-in-law is aware of her nephews’ fear of water, and she has given us access to her pool so Michelle can hopefully help them increase their confidence and comfort level in water.

I used the mantra, “You are tall; you don’t need the wall,” with Christopher while he was in the pool. My rationale was simple: He’s 4 feet, 7 inches tall, and he’s standing in four feet of water. There really was no reason that he couldn’t walk away from the wall – which he did – with encouragement, of course.

Sean, on the other hand, didn’t want to leave the pool steps. He wouldn’t let me hold him because he said he was afraid that I would let him drown. I guess Sean forgot about the time I lifted him up out of two feet of water when he somehow managed to lose his footing and went under water. (All he had to do was stand up – he was 3 feet, 5 inches at the time ‑- but that’s another story.)

So our challenge this summer is daunting but doable: decreasing our boys’ fear of water and increasing their confidence so they can enjoy the water... and feel safe.