Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What swimming has to do with reading, dancing, playing soccer and listening to your gut

I was thinking today about the swimming post (which I called "When the Trusting is Hard") I wrote back in the late spring. I thought I would write an update, to boost my confidence and remind myself of a couple of essential things about my role as "mom". To recap, back in May, Eliza was taking swimming classes, and was tailoring them, as any sensible person might do, to her own comfort level and perceived ability. This meant that she performed each activity the way she felt comfortable doing it - never far from the side of the pool, never exactly as anyone else in the class did it, but she was clearly feeling successful and having a great time.

The update is that this summer, while swimming at the lake, and then at the pool, she not only continued to explore bobbing under water, but began actually holding her breath to swim several strokes under the surface, exploding from the water with a gasp and a triumphant, "did you see that?!" This kid now loves swimming, and what she does in the water now is actually swimming! I feel like it really paid off to not push her, to not ridicule her or bully her into approaching the lessons the way we expected her to - she swam when she was ready to swim. She is able to listen to herself and follow her instincts. How incredible is that.

The reason I have been thinking about this is that as fall classes have begun, she has been nervous to try each one, needing to sit and observe, sometimes tearfully in my lap, during the first hour. She happily joined her dance class the second time around, having been "allowed" the space to feel apprehensive and feel supported in her need to watch. This was repeated on Monday night when we went to her first soccer practice, and there was no way I or the coach could talk her into getting out on the field with the other children. As familiar as this should be to me by now, I still found myself giving way to huge anxiety about what it is I'm not providing for her, what it is I'm doing that is not allowing her to feel the confidence and lack of self-consciousness she had at six. I felt self-conscious myself, being the only homeschooling parent present at the field, certain that the other parents were wondering why my kid wasn't able to "socialize" with the other kids in a "normal" way.

These moments of indecision and uncertainty are so painful to witness, and I doubt my ability to guide her through them. I want her to feel totally in control of her choices, of her participation in life and yet I have this sense that there is something I am supposed to say or a line I'm supposed to draw.

Ok - change scenes to this past Saturday evening, where we were enjoying the music of the Rattletrap String Band at the local Pawpaw Festival, and kicking up our heels through dance after dance. Eliza jumped right in - granted, she had Dan or I as a partner, but as usually happens with contra dance, there was much switching of partners and though Ani was reluctant to go along with that, Eliza showed no hesitation, often leading the way for an adult into the next move. She is "socialized" just fine, quite able to talk to just about anyone, confident that what she has to say is valuable and worth your while.

In writing about this I turned back to the post I wrote and once again found this quote from Positive Discipline so helpful, so I'll use it again: "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..."

I can't make the decisions for her. I can't make her ready to do something she's not feeling ready for, whether it's swimming, reading, dancing, or playing soccer. I can sit with her so she doesn't feel so alone and conspicuous. I can help her by staying connected and present. I can try to let her know she isn't "bad" for feeling the way she does. I can focus on nurturing her belief that she's "capable and worthwhile". How many times have I wished that I followed my "gut" about something - when did I lose that ability to Just Know? How grateful I am that becoming a mother reawakened that in me. Ultimately nurturing that "knowing" is so much more important than whether or not she plays soccer. Something does not feel right about it to her, and maybe she'll be able to articulate it to me someday. Or not. Maybe she'll surprise us and join in at the next practice. And maybe she won't.


Stacy (Mama-Om) said...

a mama (me) listening to a mama (you) listening to herself listen to her child ...

thank you.


kate said...

listening to your gut...listening to your child....taking those deep breaths and acknowledging we are *exactly* what our children need and that we are enough as mamas....true gifts, indeed.

Kerry said...

Swimming is better for you anyway (this from a former soccer mom). I'm so glad that worked out! Not everybody is into team sports--and this goes for kids no matter where they are schooled.

And growing up is a journey with no straight paths.