Making Waves with swimming

Lisa Lintern’s feels buoyant as she watches her son overcome his fears at the pool.

Let’s be honest; we all secretly want our children to be ‘best’ at something. It’s a natural urge even the most level headed of us fights to suppress.

Why else did I smile smugly when my mother-in-law leaned towards me and whispered, “She’s definitely the best” as she watched my three-year-old daughter in her ballet class? It may not always be the right urge, but it’s there.

Growing up, swimming was one thing I did well without too much effort, so when I became a mother, family and friends were quick to declare that my kids would be water babies, swimming before they’d even moved on to solids. It felt like a compliment.

I was a little slow getting my children into the water. We were living in Ireland when they were born, hardly the climate for a casual dip. But we moved back to Australia when they were toddlers, and I was quick to enrol them for lessons at the local pool.

It was then that my son’s reluctance, or should I say downright refusal, to get wet became evident. He was terrified.

I sat forlornly watching him quiver at the water’s edge while his younger sister happily splashed about. His screams when the instructor carried him into the pool filled me with sadness and embarrassment. I noticed the sideways glances from parents whose own children jumped enthusiastically into the water while I pleaded with my son to at least dip a toe in.

Week after week I tried everything – applauding him, begging, bribing him – and, I confess, sometimes getting a little angry with him.

More than a year later we were about to give up. My frustrated husband said our son was clearly never going to be a swimmer. But I persisted – not because I was determined he find his inner Thorpe, but because I wanted him to be safe around water.

After trying several instructors, all with different approaches, I accepted that if he were to swim it would be in his own good time, and nothing I could do would change that.

Then one day, it happened. I was in my usual defeated trance watching the swimming instructor in the pool plead with my son to let go of her shirt, when without warning, he did. He took a deep breath and wiggled his way underwater to the edge of the pool and pulled himself out. I sat up and roared like a one-person Olympics crowd.

He stood up and looked around, trying to make sense of what had just happened as water dripped from his body. Not only did he surprise us, he surprised himself with his unexpected bravery.

“What was that like?” I asked, trying to hold back tears. “It felt good,” he whispered. “Can I do it again?”
And he did. Over and over. And every time he did, I cheered, whooped and clapped – not because he was the best swimmer in the pool, but because I felt his sheer joy and exhilaration at finally overcoming his fears.

He still isn’t the best swimmer, and quite frankly I don’t give two hoots. He’s definitely one of the happiest, appreciating the joy water can bring.