Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Water Works

I mentioned before that Coco has not been enjoying swimming lessons. She spends the entire lesson (30 minutes) being held by me or David. We do not dunk her or splash her or force her onto her back. And yet you'd think we were torturing her.

The thing is, she's never loved the water. She and Zuzu have been taking baths together since Coco could sit up safely and securely on her own, and she is always "All done!" long before Zuzu has finished wriggling/splashing/blowing bubbles in the water.

Coco will turn two on August 7. When I look back now at the way Zuzu played in the water the summer she turned two (on June 29)--well, there's just no way:

The other day Coco got sprinkled on her head when David was watering the garden and she started crying. There's NO WAY she'd run into a fountain like that. And jumping into the water on her own? Forget about it.

I realize now that Zuzu's enthusiasm for the water might be a little unusual, but I do want Coco to feel comfortable. I had hoped that swimming lessons would do that, but trying to get a sobbing baby to realize that singing "I'm a piece of popcorn!" in the water was actually supposed to be FUN seemed to be an exercise in futility.

Things really came to a head for me last weekend. Coco was sick (Just a virus, but one that was so gross that she woke up with nose AND eyes oozing yellow gunk. I kept her home on Friday and took her to the doctor, certain she had an ear/sinus/eye infection, but nope. Just a virus.). I decided not to take her to Saturday morning swimming lessons since she obviously wasn't feeling well, so we hung out at home while Grammy and Bops watched Zuzu participate MOST enthusiastically (and overheard her coach tell the program director that Zuzu really needs to be in the class the next level up. Noted!).

Anyway, the problem materialized Sunday morning when we went to the Botanical Gardens. My dad was pushing Coco in the cart as we entered, when she suddenly burst into tears and thrashed like she was trying to escape the cart. "Wa-wah! Wa-wah!" she kept repeating urgently. A moment later I realized she was freaking out NOT because she was thirsty, but because he was pushing the stroller in the near vicinity of a fountain. And she was evidently TERRIFIED that we were going to make her swim in it.

At this point, I began rethinking swimming lessons. Were we traumatizing this baby? Did it matter if she took swimming lessons at 21 months old? Could we wait until she was older? Her tears subsided as I reassured her there would be no swimming, but she continued to announce every fountain, stream, and puddle in the gardens with trepidation, "Wa-wah!" Her panic became more of a solemn warning tone, but it was still sad.

This past weekend, I decided we were taking a different approach. David took Zuzu on out to her lesson while Coco and I got changed in the locker room (she started sobbing the moment I began to put her swim suit on her). I held her and promised her she didn't have to get in the water if she didn't want to, and we started out just sitting at the very edge of the 12" wading section of the pool. With all the other kids occupied in lessons, this part was mostly empty. Still, she sat on my lap, clinging to me and crying for daddy.

Eventually, she warmed up a little. She was willing to sit between my legs so that her feet were in the water. Then she realized she could touch and started wading while holding tightly to my hand. I walked her over to David and we sat by him on the stairs, so the water was only a few inches deep and she was safely in between us. She noticed that her class was playing with floating balls, and started asking for a ball, so I picked her up and carried her out in the water (3' deep, holding her so only her feet were in it) and she got a ball and actually tossed it and helped me chase it--reaching out her arms to grab the ball instead of clinging to me.

We took the ball and went back to the wading pool and she eventually got to where she was walking around by herself. She fell a couple of times and fussed, but when she realized she could stand back up, she kept on going, tossing the ball and chasing after it. She was even LAUGHING. It took about 30 minutes for her to warm up and enjoy herself, but I was counting it as a huge success since previously she'd spent the entire 30 minute class crying.

When Zuzu got out of class, she wanted to play a bit longer in the 3' water, so I went with her and David stayed with Coco (and her ball). She actually wanted to join us, though, so David brought her out to us and after a bit of playing, I was able to get her to perch on her bottom up on the edge and then scooch/fall into my arms! It was her version of jumping into the water, and she would laugh just like Zuzu did after making a wild leap. It was great to see her actually relax and have fun at the pool--a drastic difference from the previous two times we'd been.

It's definitely interesting to see how different these girls are. In some ways, I'm relieved that Coco is more cautious. I just want to make sure that she's not fearful around water. I definitely think that she wants to make her own way, though, so we're going to skip the formal "lessons" and continue to just have playtime for Coco while Zuzu swims with her class for the next couple of weeks.

I've called to arrange private lessons for Zuzu at an outdoor pool this summer, but I think a wading pool on our patio will be sufficient for Coco. I'm curious to see how she does at Zuzu's favorite water play parks, as I imagine we'll be doing a lot of splashing this summer.

And if Coco wants to sit in the shade with Mama and have some snacks? I can support that choice, too.


  1. Hi Brooke,
    You don't have to publish this comment if you don't want to (I could write a book probably), but I thought I'd offer some unsolicited advice since I've taught swimming at many levels for many years (babies up to adults, private lessons to coaching competitive teams).

    What you did this past weekend was great -- letting her have fun in the water and feel safe!!

    I would make everything into a game for Coco, and you guys can teach her some things when you are just playing with her. I'd focus first on skills that keep empowering her. Teach her how to get out of the pool by herself, even from the baby pool where she can stand. Have her put both arms on the wall, and then bring both elbows up on top of the deck. Then she can lift her belly button up to the deck. Next she lifts a knee and she's out! You can make it into a game (I am a terrible singer but used to sing a song that was tuneless but went something like "elbow, elbow, tummy, knee, knee!!").

    You can also teach her to scoot around the pool by "wall crawling" -- she can be a train, a monkey, or anything else she likes, and she can move herself along the wall by moving one hand in front of the other. This will let her go to different parts of the pool or to get herself to the steps or a ladder to get out of the pool.

    I'd also involve Zuzu in playing with Coco too -- to keep reinforcing that the water can be fun.

    Also, have you thought about getting her goggles? I love the water, but I absolutely hate getting water in my eyes. Sometimes kids are freaked out by goggles, so if you can find a store near you that sells swimming stuff, take the kids there and let her pick out a pair she likes. To test if the goggles fit, put them on her face without the straps. If they stay for a few seconds, it's a good fit. My sister found some awesome animal goggles for her 2-year old recently.

    She also might not like water in her ears, so you could try explaining to her that water feels funny (and sounds funny) in your ears but it's okay. And, if she's game, involve her in wetting her ears while bathing to help her get used to it.

    I learned a lot from teaching adults (probably because they are more vocal!) and I think learning to swim is a completely disorienting experience for some people!

    Best of luck!

  2. I didn't teach swim and actually suck at the sport myself. I will seriously run 10 miles before swimming a lap.

    With that said, I do try to read my kids well-ish. Benjamin is much like Zuzu (with behavior and water. Hah). He barrels for the ocean and waves without a care. Claire clings to me like wild lions are attacking her.

    In the pool, no different. She's older than Coco and won't even consider just being put in one of those puddle jumpers and floating. And helllll no to jumping in. She spends most of her time at the stairs.

    We didn't even entertain lessons with her, knowing she has such a fear and remembering all the drills B had with his early lessons (we figured we could replicate). Instead, we just spend LOTS of time in the pool so she is comfortable. I think comfort and happiness (rather than fear) is the very most important thing for kids at this age. She will likely NEVER be like Benjamin with swim skills or interest, but understanding water and being comfortable and eventually being able to survive in a scary situation is the goal.

    Claire has this similar fear with dogs and even squirrels. Loses. her. mind. And also water if I'm not holding her. Tight.