30 June 2006

Splashing Genetic Expression of Self

There's that quote that floats around mommy groups, about how the decision to have children is momentous because it means forever to have your heart walking around outside your body. True enough. Yesterday, though, it was not my heart, it was my genes. From time to time, the boys do something, anything, whatever, and it is so clearly the expression of a trait of mine or Jason's, we look at each other and say, "Your child!" It's our little joke. Slightly more unsettling is when one of them does something that is unequivocally an expression of a relative they've never met. More than once, I've seen my father or my grandfathers come out of the boys. We think of genes as things that control height, eye color, weight, whatever. It's a little stranger to think of them as controlling strong traits of personality, or of mannerism. My Grandpa did this little pattern-tapping of his fingers, and my heart nearly stopped the first time Rowan did it, just after he could control his fingers in the first place. But as the boys get older and more able to express themselves, they become a deeper, richer expression of all those who came before, in a dizzying and fascinating grab-bag sort of way. So I suppose I should not have been all that surprised yesterday, day four of swim class, when Rowan refused to stay in the water. Screaming with all the force of his will behind it, "I do not like that pool! I do not like to swim!", he catapulted over the side, away from his instructor, and into my arms. Sobbed like a little lost thing. "I hate it I hate it I hate it!!!" And of course, the mommy pressure was on. I made a promise to myself long long ago that I would never parent my kids based on what other parents thought of us, because at the end of the day, we're the ones that have to live together, and I have to respect my children as innate human beings. It's a great working theory, and has served me well often before. But at the upscale pool we signed up for classes in, I am surrounded by ultracompetitive liposucted fully-made-up Escalade-driving swim team moms, and I'm clearly the blob from another planet. So as Rowan came pelting into my arms, I was surrounded, immediately, by a wave of disapproval. Louis Vuitton bags were moved subtly aside so that I and my dripping, miserable kid would not contaminate them by our weakness. I got Rowan calmed down enough to ascertain that there wasn't anything particularly wrong with the pool, with the teacher, with a classmate. I got him to look at me, and I told him he did not have to go back in. He relaxed visibly, and curled even tighter into me, as if in gratitude. It was pretty incredible (even if it was cold and very wet). And about five minutes later, he whipped around in one of those toddler 180s that give parents mental whiplash, and asked if he could go into the baby pool. The point, in my mind, of swimming lessons in the first place, is so that the boys think of water as a safe and happy place, the same way I do. The reason we're doing lessons is that I have no memory of learning to swim. I remember throwing myself into our backyard pool when I was an infant. I have this fabulous mental picture of my mother's face through several feet of pool water. It's a great memory of mine; mom's version is not nearly so happy. Rowan flung himself into the baby pool, and was transformed. Put his goggles on by himself. Swam underwater (pulling himself along by his arms on the bottom) for a good 30 seconds at a time, coming up for a quick breath, and going back under. In fact, he spent the rest of the time either splashing the other kids, or face down, until he got too cold to continue. Whereupon he demonstrated the great good sense to get himself out. I was thoroughly proud of him. And proud of my ability to stand my parenting ground, as I listened to the tense reunions of kids who had been forced into the water by their parents, and the screams of the next round of kids so forced. And it was only as we were walking to the car that I recalled that I had flunked out of the only swim class my mother tried to put me in, when I was about Rowan's age. "Momma!" a little voice breaks into my rememberance, "I like the water!" Mission accomplished, memory recalled, the genetic imperative expressed.

6 Comments:

At 6/30/2006 08:49:00 PM, Anonymous v said...

Absolutely perfect day. love, v

 
At 7/02/2006 02:27:00 PM, Blogger LadySeduction said...

Hurray for you but more for your boys! It was a huge moment of trust between you in my view. I agree and made the same parenting vow....it can be a hard one to keep.

 
At 7/03/2006 02:49:00 PM, Blogger September said...

Awesome job. They will learn to swim, just not in your time, in theirs.

 
At 7/06/2006 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Moira said...

You did the right thing... think about how your kids will be when they are teenagers and how the other children will most likly be.

 
At 7/07/2006 08:54:00 PM, Anonymous Dana said...

Swimming lessons goes over well with only a few kids. One of my loved lessons, the other two had to learn to swim on their own. Lessons terrified them.

I can't say I blame them. It can be frightening to have a stranger come drag you around through water you feel can't support you.

I totally agree with your decision to just let Rowan play and do it his way.

 
At 7/13/2006 08:53:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad that you and Rowan found your best approach to water.
For similar but different reasons, I will not let my DD continue swimming lessons with her preschool after this first 3-week session is over.
Even though she LOVES the water any other time - jumping in fearlessly and swimming without floaties, not wanting to come out for a LONG time - she refused to go in the water during the ENTIRE first week of lessons. Big fuss, whining "I'm shyyy" for effect, and drinking murky pool water from her scooped hands instead. No deeper reason to be found, just major emotional upheaval for her AND me: I found myself turning into one of those competitive moms from hell who took her refusal as a personal failure and tried to coax her back in...
Second week we were out of town (there go our fees), and now third week she suddenly made it in and is participating with gusto, after just dangling her legs in for the first 10 miuntes on Monday. I could bet that she only did that after noticing that I decided not to react to her refusal anymore. But I admit I did cheer her on when she finally went in and screamed "Look at me, Mom, look at me!" ;-)
But from now on I'll be teaching her without those short lessons. We'll find our style, and she'll learn to swim. Now all we need is a nice pool with good hours, and a babysitter for DS...
FR

 

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