Photo: Melanie Forstall

I never thought that I would drop my young daughter into a giant pool when she didn’t even know how to swim. Yet here we are.

Motherhood can be such a head trip because you are often forced to make really hard decisions and there are no real directions. I think we can all agree that children need to learn how to swim. There’s really no argument there, right? In order to raise a healthy family, our children must be safe around water.

While we may agree with that part of the equation, what happens when our children hate it? Do we just throw them into the water? In my case, yes.

Several years ago, when we put our oldest in swim lessons, we thought this was going to be an easy process. She could not wait to start! Each day after school she would ask about swim class. We prepped with everything in her favorite color—green! Green suits, green goggles, and green flip flops! She was giddy with anticipation!

The day finally arrived.

Up until the point of actually getting into the water, the first day was great! Our teacher motioned to us that it was time to get in. Standing at the edge of the pool, I felt my child start to freeze. Understand, I was eight months pregnant with our second child, so wrestling a toddler on the edge of a pool was not something was I prepared for, or could gracefully manage. “Mommy, I don’t want to go,” she said as she tried to become one with my legs.

Her grip grew tighter and I could see her start to swell with tears. She began doing circles around me—hiding behind my swollen belly.

I look down at her precious swim teacher, who was about college-age, and asked what I should do. She shrugged her shoulders. But my eyes were pleading with the teacher to give me some direction, some answer as to how to make this work. Fantasy negotiations do not work with my child. Telling her that Minnie Mouse is in the pool will not work. Ever. She knows way better than that.

At some point during my stress, sweating, and balancing my very pregnant body on the edge of the pool I cracked my own internal whip. “Melanie! Get your sh*t together! She has to get in the water! Quit relying on the swim teacher to solve your parenting dilemma!”

In order for her to ever learn to swim, she has to get in the water. I did what I never thought I would or could do! I stood there, at the edge of the pool and dropped my crying child into the pool, into the hands of a stranger.

Oh, dear God, what have I done?

As parents, my husband and I balance each other out quite well. If it were up to him, he would have certainly taken her out of the pool area after ten minutes. Sometimes his way is better, sometimes it’s mine. But in this instance, we followed my lead.

Her lesson began and we could see her face was still a bit red and blotchy. I watched my husband as he paced the deck. All of his belongings next to me—wallet, phone, keys—all in the event he had to jump in and rescue her.

What seemed like four hours later, her lesson was done. Having her back on dry land was a relief to all of us. We hugged and celebrated how well she did. I asked her if she had fun and she answered with a resounding, “Yes!”

Really? I thought she looked totally miserable! On the way home, I asked her if she wanted to go back and she said that she didn’t. However, not going back wasn’t an option, so I rephrased my question into a statement. “Well, we are going back.” We were at a stoplight and I watched her in my rear-view mirror. She turned her head, thinking, then looked at me. “Mom, I can go back. I think I will be fine.”

The next lesson arrived and I wasn’t sure what it would be like so I did my best to hide my worry. We sat on the bleachers together enjoying a few goldfish before being summoned into the deep. At the time we saw the call from our teacher, our daughter happily took off her flip-flops and said, “See, Mommy, I’m not scared anymore!”

Overwhelmed with pride I helped her step right into the water and sit happily on the water bench. Throughout the lesson, she would look back at us for reassurance. My husband gave several thumbs-up and I smiled and waved. As she floated with her teacher across the pool, 25 yards away from us I said to my husband, “Well, she was right. She said she would be fine and she is.”

So even at three, our kids sometimes know more than we sometimes ever realize. I’m amazed and proud—of all of us! When I think about what life hands us as parents, it becomes clearer to me every day that it’s not always parents teaching children. Sometimes it’s all of us learning and growing together.

Now if we can just get her to put her face in the water.

Feature image via iStock