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Here’s Why My Kids Haven’t Had Swim Lessons Yet

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
04/22/19  4:07 PM PST
Swim Lessons

Most days, the viewing area of my twins’ gymnastic’s class is fairly tame. The parents sit, work, chat, drink coffee, and enjoy the fact that for forty-five minutes our children are being tired out by a responsible adult who is not us.

Recently, however, I walked into a different scene. Five minutes into the session, the sliding-glass window to the office creaked open and the coordinator slid out a pile of white pages. The registration for summer swim lessons was officially open.

As I write this, it’s still pretty cold out. The thought of weather warm enough to stand in without jacket, hat and gloves seemed almost mythic. Swim lessons had not entered my mind. However, parents began to arrive en masse, flustered and nervous, with pens at the ready. Apart from dorm parties in college, I had never seen so many people packed into such a small space.

“Lessons fill up in less than an hour,” a fellow gym-mom leaned in to whisper as the stack of papers traveled the room.

And then, behind me, the window slid open again as a woman rapped on the glass to ask the coordinator, “How young is too young to start lessons for my two-year-old daughter?”

His answer: “The younger the better. They don’t know to be fearful of the water when they’re young. That works in their favor. You want to get them comfortable. Teach safety basics before the fear sets in.”

Great. My twins are about to turn five. They wear floatees and goggles and bob near the edge of the pool like ducks waiting to be fed. It’s not that they’re fearful. You have to be fairly brave to be a twin. Every one of your possessions and all adult attention requires aggressive protection. It’s my own fear, not theirs, that has held us back.

Their old brother, Charlie, who has cerebral palsy, needed a tracheotomy to breathe for the first two years of his life. He couldn’t even have a real bath, much less paddle around a pool. We celebrated his trach removal at age two by scheduling his first swim session with his physical therapist in aquatic therapy. It was in that indoor pool with weights on his ankles that he first walked unassisted. Now, at age seven, he is still better at moving in the pool than on land. Water offers him a much needed break from gravity. It is where he is most free.

Yet the control over his environment is precise, with water set to a certain temperature and depth just for him. This cannot be replicated with my twins. Swim time for them often means a public pool crowded with swimmers of all skill levels or lack thereof. And the twins are already dangers to themselves in very different ways than their brother. I never had to purchase Band-Aids for Charlie. Scraped knees were not our primary concern. But now I buy Paw Patrol and Little Mermaid Band-Aids in bulk, because the twins hurt themselves all the time. They have fallen off bikes, tripped on sidewalks, bounced themselves off a mini-trampoline, and once, ran directly into a parked truck.

In some ways, I am better at letting Charlie try new things because I know the people around him will be extra cautious and helpful. He sits on the tire swing with his brother and sister, while his dad and I stand behind him with arms out like wide receivers, ready to catch him if he lets go. This is the stance of the teachers and therapists and aides in his circle, arms open wide in anticipation.

The rules are not the same for his younger brother and sister. The world assumes they can handle themselves because they are normally developing kids. I crave the same protection for them that Charlie gets. I want those ever-ready hands. And I often let my own fear and memories of Charlie’s early fragility control the speed at which they tackle the unknown. But I’m working on it, because nothing in this life is guaranteed, for any of us. I know I can’t protect them from every hurt, emotional or physical. I can’t protect Charlie from that either.

Despite how much I’d like to keep them secure in their floatees in the kiddie pool where I can keep an eye on them forever, I end up taking two forms and signing them up for swim lessons. I know it will keep them safer in the long run, even if it terrifies me in the beginning. We all move at our own speed, parents included.

child with special needs

Jamie Sumner is a mom of a child with special needs, author and blogger.

Read her blog, The Mom Gene.

Follow her on Facebook.

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