Thursday, July 8, 2010

What a Difference 4 Weeks Makes

At the beginning of the summer, Zach was not real comfortable in the water. He didn't love getting his face wet, and he would not put his face in the water without plugging his nose. He was not excited for swim lessons to start, either. We signed him up for level 1 lessons even though he took lessons last year. On our first day, I wondered if it was a bad choice, mostly because Zach was clearly the only 5 year-old in this level with a few just-turned-3-year-olds and maybe one 4 year-old. But I figured it was ok, it would give him a chance to get reacquainted with the pool and to get comfortable in the water, and maybe he'd be the star of the class and build some confidence. Plus, he was signed up for level 2 in the next 2 week session, so I felt ok about that, too. Well, he did fine, especially compared to most of the other kids in his class, who I'm pretty sure all cried at least a few times. But it was obvious that he was always so nervous. His swim teacher, Mary Frances (believe me, I had to fight hard to not call her Sister Mary Frances every time I said her name!), was fantastic and Zach loved her, which helped a lot.

So after 2 weeks of level 1 lessons, Zach didn't pass. There were a few things he just couldn't get down, like the flutter kick, back float, and front float. Mary Frances recommended that he sign up for level 1 again. Thankfully, she had an opening in her next session, and we were able to switch Zach over from the level 2 class he was signed up for to level 1 again. I am so thankful we did that. The second group of level 1 kids was comprised of 4 and 5 year-olds, all very close to being level 2 kids. It was just what Zach needed. I really think it worked out so well for us- the first time, he was with kids at his level or below, so he didn't feel bad about himself, and the second time, he had built up enough confidence that the new group, made up of kids at his level and slightly above his level, was just what he needed to motivate him.

About halfway through the first session (beginning of week 2) we decided to give goggles a try, since Mary Frances thought being able to see might help ease his fears of the unknown- the dark, deep, water. They did seem to help some, but it wasn't until a few days into the 3rd week that Zach really blew me away. After lessons one day, Zach, Drew, and I were playing in the little pool, which has a zero depth entry and only goes about 2 feet deep. I looked over and happened to see Zach putting his whole body underwater, no goggles, no plugging his nose. He had his hands on the bottom of the pool and was sort of walking on his hands, with his feet out behind him. He came up for air and wiped his face off, and I showered him with praise and made a big deal out of it. It really was the first time I had seen him put his whole head under willingly, without plugging his nose or coming back up immediately. For a few days he was only comfortable doing that in the little pool- in his mind, the big pool was too deep, even though at it's most shallow depth it's just 2.5 feet deep (I think), but I didn't force it too much. I knew that this was a big step, and that if he was comfortable with putting his whole head under anywhere, eventually he'd be comfortable doing it everywhere.

As we got into the last week of lessons, Mary Frances, Mike, and I just could not believe how far Zach had come. Zach was still really struggling with kicking, though. He would move his arms but keep his legs vertical, and one day I told him a couple of times how he was in swimming lessons, not underwater-walking lessons. About a day later we were in the car and I said "swim lessons" in something else I was talking about, and sure enough, Drew says, "Swim lessons, Zach, not walking lessons." Geesh. Something must of sunk in, though, because in the next few days, Zach suddenly started getting more horizontal in the water and started kicking his legs! I decided I had to get the video camera to the pool to get evidence of his growth. I think this video will be astounding to my parents, who witnessed Zach's nervousness in the water just a few weeks ago when they were visiting. So first, a video from Tuesday, after about 3 and a half weeks of lessons.
You'll notice in that video that not only can Zach jump into the water and not worry about his face getting wet, but he also is nearly diving into the water. Mary Frances decided that this group of kids was ready for beginner diving, and honestly, I think Zach was the star of that skill, much to my amazement. There was a little girl in the class, who also recently turned 5, who was an excellent swimmer- definitely the best in the class, but even she would chicken out when it came to diving in and would go feet-first at the last second. I use the term "diving" loosely, because it's not like Zach gets his head in first, but most of the time it's slightly more graceful than a plain belly-flop.

On Thursday, the second-to-last day of class, Mary Frances took the kids to the deepest part of the pool and gave them the chance to go off the diving board. Zach was not interested. I sort of tried to get him to do it, but I didn't do anything more than gentle encouragement, because after all the growth he'd made, there was no way I wanted to force him into something like going off the diving board. I basically said, "Are you sure you don't want to do it, Zach? We could probably stay for lunch..." Yes, I attempted a bribe. I'm embarrassed to admit it, and as soon as I said it, I wished I hadn't, because it really wasn't that important to me that he jump off the diving board. Instead he jumped in from the side, and said to me, "I know that doesn't count for staying for lunch," and I told him we'd stay anyway just because. That night we talked about it some, and Zach decided he wanted to try the diving board the next day. Even at bedtime he wanted to pray for courage to do it. Mike and I really didn't say anything after that other than that we thought if he did it he'd feel really proud, and while it might be scary at first, we thought he'd probably really enjoy it and even want to do it again.

So Friday rolled around, and Zach was still saying he was going to brave the diving board. Usually while Zach was in lessons, Drew and I would be at the little pool, and I'd keep one eye on Drew and one eye on Zach. Friday I told Drew we were not getting in the baby pool until after Zach's lesson, because I wanted to make sure I didn't miss a thing. After the warm-up and swimming practice, Mary Frances took the kids a little deeper to the diving platforms. Zach really didn't hesitate to dive off the platform and swim to Mary Frances. I figured that was a good sign for the diving board. After a couple of tries there, they all headed to the diving boards. Zach got right in line with no hesitation, and I waited anxiously, wondering if he'd do it or if he'd change his mind at the last second. You'll see in the next video, which shows the diving platform once and both diving board experiences, that Zach didn't really hesitate much. I'm not an overly emotional person, but as he jumped in the first time and swam to the wall, I will admit, I got teary-eyed. I couldn't help but think back to the beginning of the summer, when Zach would only jump into the shallowest part of the pool, where he could touch, with his nose plugged and if Mike or I were there to catch him. And now, here he was, jumping into the deepest part of the water and SWIMMING to the side. I was one proud, proud mama, that's for sure.
I was also very thankful, because there was one little boy named Ben, who I think is 4, and he was in all 4 weeks of lessons with Zach. He started out great, but for some reason, by week 4, he was a crying mess. His mom was not putting up with the antics, though. Ben stood on the diving platform crying that he did not want to jump off, and his mom got up there and tried to talk him through it, and even offered to jump off with him, but eventually, on the count of 3, threw him into the water. And I am not even exaggerating on the use of the word "threw." So then they got to the diving board. If Ben was nearly hysterical about going off the diving platform, you can imagine how he felt about going off the diving board. But Mom was not phased by it, and pushed him right off the diving board, too, not once, but TWICE! Each time little Ben landed in the water and did a great job swimming over to the side, but did not want to do it again. I'm not judging Ben's mom, but I just don't think I could have done it. It just wasn't that important to me that my 5 year-old jump off the diving board. If Zach never in his life jumped off the diving board, I wouldn't have cared that much. I don't think jumping off a diving board is a skill that somebody has to master to succeed in life. Anyway, I watched wide-eyed as Ben's mom pushed her hysterical kid off the diving board and was so thankful that Zach and I were not in that position. I can only imagine that Zach would have been incredibly sad had I done that to him, and I would have felt immense guilt, too.

I really think one of the biggest factors in Zach's success in these lessons was his teacher. Mary Frances was just amazing. We got so lucky that Zach was put in her class. I noticed that all the swim teachers at the club are adults, whereas last year at the public pool Zach's swim teacher was a 16 year-old high school girl. Mary Frances was great at encouraging Zach and understanding his fears, while also holding him accountable and pushing him just enough. I think that's a harder thing for a novice high school kid to do, compared to a 37 year-old woman who has been teaching swimming for 14 years. We made sure to write Mary Frances a nice thank you note (accompanied by a great picture drawn by Zach) and give her a gift card to Cold Stone Creamery to show our appreciation. Drew is already talking about having Mary Frances when he starts lessons next summer, and it's so cute to hear him say her name. We hope she's still teaching then, because we will be requesting her for sure! I don't know, though; Mary Frances is pregnant with baby #2, due at the end of November, at which time her oldest child will just be 13 months old, so hopefully she's not too busy next summer to teach lessons again!

When Zach started swim lessons four weeks ago, he was not excited, and he would have been happy to miss a class. By the end of this week, though, he was definitely sad that lessons were about to end. That in itself is saying something, I think. The funniest part was what he said to me after his second jump off the board, as we walked over to get his report card and a treat from Mary Frances. "Mom," he said, "when I'm 6, I'll jump off the diving board again, but I'm not doing it before that." So although he was proud of himself for doing it and he had fun, he's also ok with waiting a while to do it again. :-)


Goldenzinns said...

Brings back memories of you girls jumping off the high dive at the pool in Steamboat springs. Courage, what a wonderful thing to have and trust in yourself and your instructors!

Laura said...

That's so great that Zach is doing well with swimming now. For some reason, water tends to hold some apprehension over kids...Alivia tends to have some doubts about water. She loves to play in water, and has been doing swimming for a long time now, but she still is not comfortable putting her face in the water. I figure, the more exposure the better...Avery on the other hand, has breezed through all her lessons and is swimming in the 12 ft part of the pool now (all the kids are much bigger than she is)...Alivia will get there someday, I'm sure. It's so great to see that progress in our kids...good for Zach

zinncaulfield said...

OMG, I teared up watching him! He's got a proud aunt too!

Sandy said...

Nice job Zach! Anders likes jumping off the side of the pool, but I'm not sure about the diving board yet!