I am reaching the stage of parenting where I have to really show my kid the “ropes.” At almost 6, she is starting to do a lot of “big kid” things. Like tying her shoes, reading, and riding a bike. And, unlike crawling, walking, and other more instinctual human activities, most of these things are actual skills. And they need to be taught. The only problem is, these are skills that I literally do not remember learning. I remember bits and pieces. Like the first time I rode my bike without training wheels and felt the air rush over my face and through my hair (no helmets in the 80s). But the “how” of teaching it…No clue. With the bike riding, I recall having training wheels and then one evening when I was about 6 or 7, my dad just took them off and gave me a giant push on the sidewalk. And, poof, I was a bike rider.
As a result of this memory failure, I have no idea how to adequately teach these skills to my daughter. As a parent, I find this both terrifying and extremely frustrating. There is so much trial and error. With every choice that leads to a misstep, I feel like I am setting my daughter behind.
For example, Violet is having a hard time learning to swim. When she was 4, we set her up in swimming lessons at my gym. The pool was small and heated. The classes are intimate. We thought she was making serious progress with flotation devices like noodles and floaties. She was blowing bubbles and laughing through lessons. When we found out that her summer camp also offered lessons at that pool, we thought we were golden and she was headed toward swimming mastery.
This fall, she was old enough to attend swimming lessons at the high school pool through Parks and Recreation. We signed her up for the 5-year-old “beginner class.” At the very first class, we realized that we had seriously erred. This class was in a giant Olympic-sized pool that wasn’t heated. There were no steps into the pool and no floaties or noodles to be see. Somehow all of the other “beginner” students were free of floatation devices and jumping off the side of the pool and right into the water. Our daughter clung first to me, then the poolside, then to our poor, teenaged instructor. We realized quickly that our daughter is totally addicted to pool noodles, floaties, and paddle boards. And small heated pools (understandably). And now she is terrified of the water. We ended up pulling her from the class after three excruciatingly long 25 minute sessions of crying and screaming. The P & R folks wouldn’t let me sit by the side of the pool. And Violet was having none of it. Sigh. Big, existential sigh.
I have since Googled countless pages on teaching your child to swim. A lot of them say to NEVER use flotation devices in the process (thanks expensive swimming lessons at the gym!). As this summer rolls around, I am at a loss. Her camp is again offering lessons at the gym pool, which we are signing up for so that she at least gets some safe water instruction. But as for what to do going forward, it’s difficult to plan. Our pediatrician recommended an expensive swimming school, but the classes run every day for two weeks, which is just about impossible for this single, working mama! From the dream world of Facebook, it appears that other parents have no worries about this stuff. Their kids are all swimming across an Olympic-sized pool at 6. Well, as Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I’ll get no answers and just a whole lot of mama guilt from social media.
I often wonder how my parents did this stuff. After all, there was no Google or Facebook parenting groups or mom blogs back in the day. And yet, my siblings and I all ended up better-than-average swimmers with minimal classes at our neighborhood pool. I am now an avid cyclist. I have tied my own shoes since I was 6. I have been reading since 4 without sight words, pre-K or even full-day Kindergarten. It’s enough to make me feel that my parents knew something that I just don’t know. They were part of some secret club or got a manual at the hospital maternity ward. I wonder, how do I know if I’m doing this right? My confidence is shot.
I do take solace in the fact that my daughter is funny, empathetic, generous, kind and athletic. While some of these qualities are inherent, I can also take at least partial credit. I have tried to instill them in her from day one. We get outside every day, help our neighbors, write cards to our friends and family, and leave kindness rocks in the woods. All good things. Great things actually.
As for our summer plan, I am definitely focusing on cycling. We are trying to go riding now with training wheels every day. I bought a kid’s bike attachment for my bike so that we can do some long rides and she can build her pedaling muscles while taking a break when she needs to. So maybe, just maybe, the training wheels will be off by August.
What are your biggest parenting insecurities? What do you wish you had a manual for? And if anyone has any practical swimming advice, leave it in the comments. Seriously. I can use all the non-judgmental help I can get.