Eliza is taking swim lessons. This is a big deal, as over the years we've dipped our toes into the waters of swim lessons, but not being into forcing her to do something she is adamantly opposed to, we have backed out each time. Trusting that when she is ready she will be able to swim, or at the least, stick with the lessons. My biggest hope for these lessons was that she would stay in the water. Truly, I was thrilled the first class, when she not only stayed in the water, but came out reluctantly, and with a huge grin as she hit the showers. I sit up in the bleachers above the pool, with Anika (who decided she was done during class number two) and watch Eliza, who now bobs under the water and back up, spurting water, rubbing her eyes, grinning. I am mostly just happy she is enjoying herself, finding a way to play and be comfortable as she learns new skills. On occasion Dan has been able to join us in the bleachers to watch a bit of the class, and it was clear the first time that he had different expectations or hopes than I did. Eliza had negotiated with her teacher, and was doing the exercises her own way. This means that she did the crawl with the noodle, but she did it along the wall, never straying more than a foot away from being able to grab the side of the pool. It means she did a back float, but with her head resting on the edge of the pool, not out in "open water". Dan understandably was frustrated with this take on swimming class, and was ready to dissect the class with Eliza afterwards, explaining that she wasn't really doing what the instructor was asking her to do. I somehow intercepted this conversation - I had had the same feelings, but had also been there to watch the small successes and improvements, and didn't want his well-meaning remarks to dampen her spirit. He got it right away, and since then we've sort of swapped moments of feeling worried or discouraged, taking turns working through our trust that she is doing what she should be doing. My compass during this exercise has been her face, emerging from the pool - as I said to Dan (ok, I hissed it - I was trying to quickly intercept the conversation), "Honey, she was whistling. She is really really happy about swim lessons. She feels good about herself." She has seemed completely unaware or at least unselfconscious about the fact that she is doing every activity a little differently than the other kids in her class. I've been reading Positive Discipline (again), and just last night read this: "Self-esteem is, quite simply, the confidence and self-satisfaction each one of us has in him- or herself. Self-esteem comes from having a sense of belonging, believing that we're capable and worthwhile...And it is self-esteem that gives children the courage to take risks in life and the willingness to try new experiences..."
This hasn't meant that I haven't encouraged her to challenge herself each time. We'll talk about it like that - I'll ask her what her challenge will be for class today, how might she surprise herself or her teacher? She comes up with goals - and they're small, they're not what I would set for her, but she meets them every time. On the drive to the very first class I asked the girls to remember three things: One, that their teacher had their safety first and foremost in their minds and would not ask them to do something unsafe; two, they should strive to do their best, and three, they were there to have fun and enjoy the water. In the following weeks I have asked Eliza to trust her teacher, and to trust herself, to not sell herself short. Today, before the last class, I asked Eliza in the locker-room what she was expecting from the class today, what was her challenge? She told me she was going to listen to her spirit and trust herself to do her best. And maybe she would even jump in from the side of the pool. Which she did.