~summer shorts~ swim lessons

Lesson one

“Roughly 80% of your body is water. your body is made of mostly water.” She puts a number on it for him, and it is then that i know i have found the perfect swim teacher for quinn.

She explains not to blow out all his air at once, but to instead hum, letting out small amounts of air at a time. Of course, music helps everything with quinn, even swimming.

In the bedtime dolphin visualization, i tell quinn to relax each muscle and let himself be held and supported by the ocean, to trust the water. I have repeated it like a mantra, a chant, a wish i would have him absorb into his being. “let the water hold you and support you…” it works to lull overactive thoughts into sleep, but he is anything but relaxed when he gets in a pool.

My first job outside of babysitting and farm work was as a lifeguard and teacher of swim lessons. Something about that has held me back from hiring outside help. I’m qualified, i reason. I was on the high school swim team, a scuba diver, a marine biologist, a sailor on the open sea.

I was just as sure my little pisces boy would take to swimming. He’d be a natural. He is a water boy through and through, in love with boats and buoys, fishing and fly-tying, kayaking and canoeing.

But underlying the wateriness of quinn is a murky deep layer of fear, exacerbated by sensory integration challenges. Just this year he has become capable of showering, because he now realizes the loudness and pokiness of the water cascading over his skull and entering his ears (now that he sometimes allows this) is not going to kill him, though he is still pretty sure that any water entering his nostrils will.

One by one, his teacher starts the painstaking work of dispelling his fears. She shows him that every person has a level at which they float, if they do not move at all. For her, it is at nose level. With no effort at all, she is not going to end up on the bottom, but will equilibrate at nose level, like a cork, and she demonstrates for him. She has quinn try this exercise. His string bean build has him floating just under the surface, with nothing but the cowlick of his harry potter hair protruding above. She tells me later that to him, this feels like he is far below the surface, sinking to the bottom, and for now, all he has is her word that he, too, is a cork.

Lesson two

Graceful high schoolers porpoise across the pool, their strokes cutting slices of water to propel them efficiently forward. The coach looks at me like he’s not sure what i’m doing in the bleachers, does not connect my face to anyone in his database of swimmers. I aim my gaze over at the teaching pool, trying to silently communicate to this coach that mine is the upright shivering stick figure, not one of his muscular porpoises.

With so much water all around, i feel salt water in me welling up, threatening to spill over as i watch his teacher turn the rubik’s cube of quinn over in her hands, figuring out how he learns. Like a midwife working to guide a new mother through the task before her, she tries one thing, then another. Her arsenal of strategies is a deep well.

He responds to her instructions without delay, i notice on this second day. He is ready for this, he wants to build this skill. It is not coming easily for him, but he is putting in so much effort.

She drops a weighted object. He throws himself after it, for once forgetting to pinch his fingers to his nose. His body submerged, one hand stretches above the surface, reaching for the wall and safety, but the other long arm has gotten ahold of the weight. He surfaces, lifting it up and out, victorious.

That day i watch him jump in for the first time ever – not holding his ears, just his nose, and after the first try, not trying to bend down and use his hands to maintain a hold on the edge.

Over dinner he explains his logic of how his eyes and mouth can close themselves, but not his nose and ears. He has found he can deal with water in his ears, because it can’t hurt him, but he knows water up his nose can hurt him, so he is still fearful of leaving his nose open. I tell him that even though his nose doesn’t have a physical barrier, it does have a way to make a “door” it’s just that it’s made out of air… but nothing can go in if air is coming out. he says he knows and now he has even experienced it, but his mind doesn’t totally accept and trust that yet. We decide more experience is what he needs to get past that block.


Lesson three

Two days later he jumps in with confidence, lets himself go under on purpose, lets himself stay under the water and come up slowly, starting to trust. She has him do it again, in slightly deeper water, building even more confidence. He holds his nose, sticks his head in the water, and kicks all the way across the width of the pool. He stands up, parts wet hair out of his face, and when his teacher points back to where he started, realizes how far he just propelled himself. he throws his hands up in the air in celebration. He struggles to float on his back for the first half of the lesson, then there he is, lying back into the embrace of the water, letting himself just float. Letting the water hold him and support him. He stays in the pool after his teacher moves on to her next student, pushing himself onto his back to float again and again. He has it in his body now.

Lesson four

He jumps in with wild abandon (and his fingers pinching his nose), again and again, pulling himself up on the edge of the pool with more ease and coordination between his long limbs and his core muscles. The very last jump at the end of the lesson is epic, he nearly cannonballs into the pool, with the goal of reaching the bottom of the 6 foot section where the green torpedo weight beckons for him to retrieve it. Retrieve it he does!

After he finishes the lesson, he comes over and tells me i have to watch him do the squid! I had been watching the whole time, of course, but i watch dutifully as he climbs back in, leans back, glides onto his back, and squids across the pool with a grin on his face.


Lesson five

More squidding, this time underwater. More jumping, more diving for objects, more floating and kicking. More successes, more throwing up his arms in celebration. Afterwards, i ask what he worked on.

“the main thing today was making sure i can flip over from my front to my back.”

“and can you do that now?”


Swim lessons might be about more than just swimming. Lessons about not letting fear hold us back, about being brave, and jumping in. Lessons about miracles, like the solidity of doors made of air, and matter in a liquid state holding up your body weight. (Quinn’s new word: lolid.) Lessons in trust, even when logic might not support it, leaning on it despite having considered all the facts. Lessons about how we can do hard things, if we put in effort. May these lessons cling to him like water from here on out.

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