When Swim Lessons Make You Ugly Cry

When I was a young teenager, I read a novel that described the heroine crying. Apparently, she didn’t make a sound, but silent tears slid heartbreakingly down her porcelain cheeks. At that moment, I decided that’s how I wanted to cry. Not blubbery, but beautifully and with poise.

Well, sadly, the good Lord didn’t bless me with poised weeping.


I’m an ugly crier.

Thankfully, it doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s like…

Yes, this is a reference from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien.

…and it ain’t pretty. Hence the ugly crying.

And I don’t like anyone to see it. Yes, we can blame my own ungodly pride for this.

But there are times when your pride is going to take a blow, regardless of what you expect or anticipate. And this week’s example of Mama-not-being-able-to-control-her-circumstances?

Swim lessons.

Due to this lovely pandemic, we’re much farther into the summer than normal for swim lessons. In Florida, we did ISR lessons starting in April, but with Covid, I didn’t even consider signing the kids up until pools began to reopen. Also, both ISR teachers in the area were booked solid, so onto Plan B.

Last year, we did private lessons at the YMCA, so I figured we’d try group lessons. Maybe a little peer pressure and other kiddos leading by example would help my cerebral 5-year-old embrace pool school. I even signed up Olivia, who is 3, for the same 3-5-year-old class, assuming they’d be together in a tiny group of tiny children. I imagined them holding each others’ hands as they dipped their little toes into the water before loving all that swim lessons had to offer, maybe even getting their heads wet!

Whelp. I was wrong.

We missed the first lesson, then the second was cancelled. So, yesterday was our first day. I was immediately frustrated because all the other little kids just went straight into the pool. They knew exactly where to go. There wasn’t anyone around to direct us, as there were numerous classes and teachers. I was pointed to an empty tent with a “go ask someone at the tent for a roster.”

My tears began to brim. They tend to accompany rising frustration.

Once the roster finally appeared, I was told my children were in two different classes. On opposite ends of the pool. My 3-year-old was in the deep end, while my 5-year-old was in the shallower end. Olivia immediately started hyperventilating.

“You’re going to do great! You’ve got this!” I told her enthusiastically.
“I don’t got this! I don’t got this!” she wailed.

Olivia and I walked George to his class. He refused to get in the water. The other preschoolers were about five minutes into their lesson. I was hoping the 19-year-old lifeguard gal would grab him and pull him in, but she had four other 4- and 5-year-olds to manage, so I don’t blame her for vaguely trying to help. She really tried her best. With 35-pound Olivia on my hip, I kicked off my flip flops and marched George into the “too cold! too cold!” water myself. That’s when he started crying.

I sat him on a lounge chair and told him to watch his class while I tried to get Olivia happily splashing with her fellow 3-year-olds at the other end of the pool.

Y’all, those little kids were phenomenal. They were laughing as the teacher dunked them each under the water. Olivia took one look at that exercise and started crying wildly, gripping my shirt.

And that’s when I couldn’t stop crying.

It was all so overwhelming and frustrating.

I needed another adult, another lap, another set of hands. I needed someone to grab my child and pull them into the pool, ignoring the screaming until they got used to the water. I wanted someone else to be the bad guy.

I didn’t want to be the sideshow all the other parents and grandparents were pretending not to watch. I didn’t want to be the mom having the emotional breakdown. Two other moms even came over and sat with me and Olivia. They gave wonderfully reassuring comments, and I’m tearing up thinking about how they were compassionate enough to reach out. I hope I’m always that fellow mom.

My kids have to learn how to swim. It’s nonnegotiable. And yet, they were unwilling to negotiate. (In case you haven’t heard, preschoolers aren’t great with the logical reasoning yet.)

George and Olivia with their grammy a week before. See? They don’t fear water. Maybe they fear beautiful, young lifeguards wearing red one-pieces? No clue.

So, we sat and watched George’s swim lesson take place without him. In the beating sun. While attempting not to make eye contact with the other parents.

And then George began to perk up. I talked encouragingly about how now he knew what to expect, so he’d be a fantastic swimmer when he got into the pool the next day. He even looked excited. I was so relieved.

(Side note: I did decide to let Olivia skip swim lessons. Without sounding like I’m pandering to my children, she’s definitely not ready for those particular lessons. I’m not willing to scar her experience in the pool and set her back further. We’ll work with her and set her up for success next year. Also, we don’t have a pool, so she isn’t around water very often.)

So, let’s skip the part where I ugly-cried all the way home. We can even skip the part where I collapsed into my husband’s arms, thankful he’s still working from home (oh, there’s that silver lining, Covid!). My husband agreed to extend his Thursday lunch break and join us at swim lessons the following day.

Fast forward to today. I prayed during my morning quiet time with the Lord. I felt helpless and didn’t see a good solution. I even asked for forgiveness for my massive pride and recognized the, uh, opportunity to work on humility.

So, we’re at the pool again. Olivia is thrilled she isn’t asked to swim, though now she wants to play in the pool (eye roll here). George is looking OK. His swim teacher shows up, and the other kids crowd around her to be fitted for their back floaties. My husband grabs George’s hand and walks him toward her.

That’s when the 30-minute battle began.

And this time, I had another adult, another lap, another set of hands. This time, there were no tears rolling down my cheeks, but there was serious whine/screaming coming out of my 5-year-old.

My husband was awesome. Neither of us know what to do when George hits this fever pitch. We don’t want to be the catering give-ins, but sometimes a kid can be so far gone there isn’t much coming back, especially before the end of a 30-minute swim lesson. It was ugly, y’all.

I just didn’t know what to do. Private lessons? Try to force the group lesson? Do nothing at all and hope next year is better? Clearly, group swim lessons weren’t this year’s answer. We left feeling defeated.

The Hubs and George, three days before swim lessons began, loving Dollywood’s Splash Country with all his heart.

Except George. He immediately perked up when we got back to the car and started talking about Pokemon. I told him to stop until we got home.

That’s when God provided the perfect answer.

My husband stepped up to the plate. He volunteered to take George to the pool and work with him. He even said he’d do it this afternoon.

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before. I feel very insecure at the idea of teaching my children to swim, so I would’ve thought he’d feel the same. But he didn’t.

So, after my husband finished his afternoon workload, I cautiously told George that he was going to swim with Daddy this afternoon and “wouldn’t that be fun?” I said in my brightest mom-voice. He immediately agreed.

And when the two came home, both were happy with their time together. George even dunked his head in the water numerous times. He kicked. He floated. He generally had fun with his father.

I’m so, so grateful. And relieved.

I’m fully confident my husband can teach him the handful of basic skills any 5-year-old needs to be safe in the water … and he’s willing and patient.

OK, disclaimer that it’s only the first day of trying this (as my husband said when I mentioned I wanted to blog about this). However…


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Currently Reading:
No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer – I’m taking a few editing classes with The PEN Institute. I thought I’d get a few certificates under my belt even while offering my editing ministry to you.

This month’s class is about romance novels. Christian fiction romance was my bridge between children’s books and adult novels, as the young-adult market wasn’t a thing back in the day. So, since I’m learning how to edit Christian romance novels, I thought I’d read a few along the way. I read Witemeyer’s Short-Straw Bride, which is basically a retelling of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which I love.

No Other Will Do tells us the happily-ever-after of Malachi Shaw, a young, homeless boy, and Emma Chandler, the spunky girl who found and “adopted” him into her family. They haven’t seen each other for ten years, but when they do *gasp!* they each think the other is gorgeous but, of course, out of reach! Emma founded a town for women who need a fresh start and Mal works in demolition across the country. When someone threatens Emma and her ladies, she telegraphs Mal for help. He comes racing to the rescue! I’m assuming there’ll be a wedding in the end.

Published by Christine Boatwright


2 thoughts on “When Swim Lessons Make You Ugly Cry

  1. We did swim lessons with our three-year-old for the first time this summer. She’s going through a mermaid faze right now, so I was the one who was TERRIFIED. She tried jumping in the deep end with no floaties when the swim coaches were all on the shallow end, so I was there yelling, “Don’t jump!” in my angriest mom voice.

    It was a different experience, but I have felt that mom embarrassment thing. There’s no reason for it, every kid is different, and it sound like you’re really attuned to your kids’ needs. Great job, mom!


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