“How are you doing, Schuyler?” I asked him.
He turned his eyes on me. They matched the color of the pool, and were overflowing with wonder and fear. “It’s just a lot of water,” he whispered.
“Yes, it’s a big pool,” I agreed. “Are you ready for your lesson?”
“It’s just a lot of water,” he repeated. “Nothing to be scared of.” But his big round eyes belied his words.
I helped get the other children onto the platform, and watched as Schuyler repeated his mantra. “It’s just a lot of water. It’s just a lot of water.”
When we started the class, he was a willing participant, bouncing on the platform to get his shoulders wet, then his chin wet, and finally blow bubbles. He brought his mouth right down into the water to blow out the birthday candle that my finger had transformed into. He giggled and splashed with the rest of the children.
Then it was time to leave the platform. One by one, an instructor took each child off the platform and out into the deeper water. When it was Schuyler’s turn, he put me in a death grip, strong little arms locked around my neck.
“It’s just a lot of water,” he chanted again directly into my ear, but I had to stop him.
“Schuyler, you can’t hold me like that,” I said to him, pulling him off of me. His eyes were wild with fear now, looking at the big pool behind me. “Look at me, Schuyler,” I said, and repeated it until he did. “Put your hands here, on my arms,” I said, “and just keep looking at me.”
Obediently, he put his hands on my upper arms, squishing my puny biceps in his fear-strengthened grasp. “Look at me, Schuyler,” I said, and our eyes locked. I backed away from the platform, and when his feet left its safety, his head whipped around in panic. “Look at me, Schuyler,” I reminded, and again he was mine.
I felt like a swim whisperer, murmuring a mix of soothing words and simple instructions. “It’s alright. You’re safe. I’ve got you. Look at me. Stretch your legs. It’s alright. You’re safe. Let’s blow some bubbles. It’s alright.”
We walked around the shallow end of the pool, his bright blue eyes locked on mine. When we got back to the platform, he stood proudly up. “It’s just a lot of water,” he said, a smile breaking over his whole face.
At the end of the lesson, I watched Schuyler go over to his father. The little boy was bubbling over with his accomplishments. “You were right,” he said excitedly. “It’s just a lot of water.”
As his father toweled him off, his eyes met mine. “Thank you,” he mouthed, before he turned attention again to the excited little boy.
That 30 minute lesson stayed with me the rest of the day. There were so many things I learned in it. Here are a few:
- In times of stress, find comforting words and repeat them often .
- There are ways to hold on that are crippling, and there are ways to hold on that are empowering. Find the right way to hold on to something stronger than you, and do it.
- Keep focused on strength, not fear.
What a privilege to be a swim instructor! I think that I am the one who learns the most from swim lessons.