One summer day when Sophie was just a few weeks old, our little family went to the neighborhood pool. I perched in the shade in my yoga pants and nursing tank, Sophie snoozing on my boob.

I enjoyed watching Marc and Lily in the water, but it pained me at the same time. I wanted to get off the sidelines and be there with my big girl.

Marc noticed this, hopped out of the pool and took the sleeping baby out of my arms. I walked over to the edge of the shallow end, rolled up my pants and dipped my feet in the water.

Lily had been holding onto the edge, waiting for me. Once I settled in and gave her a kiss, she pushed away from the wall with a noodle tucked under her arms.

Then she kicked funny and flipped herself over, face first into the water.

She struggled and flailed. I panicked, jumped into the pool fully clothed and snatched her up. She was hysterical, so I rushed her out of the water and tried to calm her down. Of course she refused to get back in.

I can’t help but think that was a defining moment in Lily’s relationship with the water, and that I am in large part to blame for the crippling fear that has prevented her from enjoying swimming for the last two years. I should have kept her in the water and comforted her without revealing my panic — the “brush it off” technique that works so well on dry land.

She doesn’t jump off the edge of the pool like other kids her age. She won’t swim without being surrounded by an innertube or a grown-up’s arms. She panics when her face gets wet.

So you can imagine my joy when, for the first time, she unglued herself from her teacher’s arms at Saturday’s swim lesson and swam alone in her life vest. I sat poolside, tears pricking my eyes, phone camera in hand, making that embarrassing laugh/snort/cry sound that I imagine will be much the same when she walks down the aisle on her father’s arm years from now.

This was a HUGE moment for Lily. She let go of fear.

It was written all over her face, as her grimace gave way to a smile. A beaming, ear-to-ear smile.


And later that day, back at the neighborhood pool, she paddled right past the scary spot from two years ago, swatting my arms away.

Mommy, she said. I got it.

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6 Comments on little fish in the making

  1. I love the way you tell stories! Go Lily!

    While it is common for kids around here to be early swimmers, I know plenty of kids who just never got over their fear of letting go of the side. It is a big thing to not be able to touch the bottom and jump in!
    Laura Case recently posted…Parenting in the year 2013My Profile

    • You’re so right! I think being able to touch the bottom makes a BIG difference for her now. Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

  2. This is a great story. There are so many times that I’ve wondered if my reaction to a situation will impact my son forever. I think it feels good to know that sometimes it impacts them less than we think.

    • It’s tough. I never know which of my words or actions will send her into therapy later on in life. 🙂

  3. Your instinct was absolutely correct to jump in and pull her out, dear friend. Your instinct is never wrong. Water is scary for everyone at some point in time. It terrifies me as a parent. A healthy fear is a good fear, but now she is spreading her fins and it will be just fine.

    This post made me tear up a little when I got to the part where you describe her on Marc’s arm going down the aisle. You must stop doing that to me. 😉
    Ann recently posted…CCC – AprilMy Profile

    • Aw, thanks Ann. One of my goals in life is to make people cry with my words.


      On a serious note, I think what you say about a healthy fear of water is totally right on. I’ve been swimming since I was little — competitively too — and I’m still cautious, especially in the ocean. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not a total worry wart. 🙂

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