Friday, June 10, 2016

Toby Finds His Flippers

Sometime about four years ago I looked at my five small children and thought: "This summer I HAVE to start teaching this rabble how to ride bikes and how to swim. I might just die before I ever get all five of my kids riding bikes and swimming, but I'll have to die trying. If by some miracle they all learn to ride bikes and swim to save their lives, my work on this earth will be done."

Now, teaching any child to ride a bike or swim is a challenging task, but you have to know that Naomi and Emma have extra difficulties with balance and coordination. Naomi, who has mild autism, also absolutely couldn't stand the feeling of water on her face, and Toby has been afraid to death of water since he was a toddler. He never wanted to be at a swimming pool, splash pad, or anywhere else wet. I had my work cut out for me.

And so, four years ago, I started running behind wobbly bikes, bandaging scraped knees, and encouraging discouraged hearts. I started forcefully holding screaming children in the water while they pled for their lives and lifeguards gave me questioning looks. I stood for hours that added up to weeks, coaching and coaxing my kids to put their ears under water, relax and float, coordinate their strokes, not panic if they got splashed, be brave, put their head under water, relax and kick...

And you guys, by some miracle, one by one, they began to ride on their own! And we cheered and grabbed the camera and threw little parties for each one. And this summer all five of my kids are riding bikes all on their own!

And one by one the girls began to swim. They began to pass the pool swim test and proudly get tagged with the bright orange tag that allows them to jump off the diving board. One by one, they began to gather up their courage and jump off the diving board and I would hold my breath each time until their head popped up above the water and they swam to the edge with ease. And we threw little celebrations in the pool and even the lifeguards smiled.

Toby screamed for a full hour and a half last summer when I first forced him into the water. Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, he gathered up his courage and learned to float and almost swam last summer. I hated when the pool closed last fall because I was afraid I would lose all that progress over the winter.

Last week we got our summer season passes to the local pool again and started hitting the pool at least three days a week. I almost couldn't believe it, but Toby got right in and picked up right where he left off last August. In the last two weeks, Toby has learned to back float and swim on his back, swim on his front with a sort-of breast stroke, and tread water. He got up his courage and went down the water slides, even though that meant his head went under the water at the end, and today…today he gathered up his courage and took the pool swim test.

The lifeguard who gave the test, just happened to be one who had watched Toby for three years: watched him sit happily on the side of the pool with a life preserver on while I taught his sisters to swim, watched him scream and fight me last summer, and watched him grow his flippers this summer. "OK, buddy, let's go," he said. Toby clenched his fists and mustered his courage as he walked to the pool, then he floated, and swam, and treaded water in the deep end, and he passed that test!!!

Oh my word, we whooped and hollered, and all the lifeguards smiled, and Toby got tagged!

Ahhh! I'm almost done folks, four kids are swimming now. Maybe, just maybe I'll get Elijah swimming this summer, but judging by the way he screamed when I took his life jacket off today, I might still have some work ahead of me.

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