Two weeks ago today, I dragged my ass out of bed at 5:30 to crank up the old laptop and log onto a website that seemed to have been built in the same era as the timeworn public pool where I was trying to get my twin girls into swim lessons. With the right combination of clicking "refresh", logging out and logging back in again, and muttering swear words, I successfully secured two of the six available spots within minutes of registration opening.
Since the girls recently turned three, I enrolled them in the Tiny Tots class, which requires parents to stay the hell out of the pool, and, in fact, behind a chain-link fence in an observation area where they can't interfere with the lessons.
On Day One, my kids made it clear that this arrangement was unacceptable, and clung to my legs so that I had to stagger into the no-parents zone in order to get them near the water. The staff made an exception for us, which was a little embarrassing, but not as bad as a full-blown meltdown and abject swim lesson failure.
Despite my kids being the scaredy-cats of the group (give them a break: they are the youngest and most coddled smallest), the first class went way better than I had dared to hope. Twin A (aka Cobra), the one who regularly leaps into the pool without any warning at our friends' house and doesn't panic when we take a few seconds to fish her out, sat on the pool steps with the four other little ones and allowed herself to be pulled around and floated on her back by her teacher, a big Polynesian-looking dude with dreads, gauges in his ears, and a scraggly goatee. This wasn't very surprising, given her enthusiasm for splashing around in the pool. But she's usually pretty suspicious of strangers, so it could have gone either way.
It was Twin B (Butterbean) I was worried about. She loves playing in our friends' pool too; but whereas her sister will launch herself in my general direction regardless of the distance between us, Butterbean demands with more than a tinge of desperation in her voice, "Don't be far away!" when I try to get her to swim to me, and refuses to let go of the edge unless I'm touching her hands.
However, with a little coaxing, Butterbean got in the water and even grabbed onto the kickboard her teacher proffered, and went cruising around the shallow end with a look of grim determination on her face. Once the kids were settled into the routine, I slipped over to the other side of the fence and minded my own business, just like all the other parents. Well, I may have documented the whole lesson on two different video cameras, and shouted a few words of encouragement and maybe squealed with pride once or twice; but other than that, I didn't make a big deal out of it.
And then came Day Two. Butterbean continued to thrive, and seemed even to be competing with the other kids. But Cobra, usually the brave one in the water, decided she was no longer interested. I sat in the no-parent zone trying to cajole her into getting in the water, but with no luck. Finally, with less than ten minutes left in the lesson, I bribed her with the promise of ice cream and she got in.
On Day Three, Cobra got in up to her knees. On Day Four, she got her toes wet.
There was no lesson on Friday or over the weekend, so yesterday (Monday) was Day Five of eight.
I mentioned swim lessons to the girls several times during the day, trying to prepare them. We had gone to the beach on Sunday, where both of them had happily splashed around in the cold water and seaweed, and I had tried to strengthen the associations between swim lessons and fun every time I could.
When it came time for their lesson on Monday, though, neither of them wanted to go. Somehow I managed to get them into the car without much trouble; and they changed into their suits willingly, just because they love wearing them on any occasion.
But as we approached the pool, they both declared that they would not be swimming on that particular afternoon. No tears, no drama, just "no."
I led them to the water's edge, turned on my heel, and went out to the observation area with the other parents. From there, I observed my kids prance, pose, hold hands, cavort, skip, and hop near the edge of the pool. But they showed no interested in getting in, despite the pleas of their teacher.
After watching this for twenty minutes, and being twice as embarrassed and frustrated as I had been when it was only one of my kids being the problem child, I decided that I had had enough.
"Are you guys going to get in the pool?" I demanded.
"Let's go then. We're going home."
They could not have given less of a shit. Home, pool, whatever. They have a lot more toys to play with at home, and they never wanted to go to the stupid pool anyway.
Being the model dad that I am, I tried to passive-aggressively shame them during the drive home, but that stuff doesn't work very well on 3-year-olds. It must have soaked in on some level though, because later, as I was trying to haul a large bucket of water down the stairs (don't ask) and yelled unnecessarily loudly at Cobra to get out of my way, she became hysterical for a good fifteen minutes. And I have felt like a piece of shit ever since. Good times.
When I typed the title of this post, I thought, "Hey--that's good stuff. See, on the surface," I explained to myself, "it's like it's about swim lessons; but what it'll really be about is the lessons I learned through the experience of negotiating this seminal experience in my children's lives, and how we all grew together during it." Well, what I've learned is that you can't make a mule-headed kid do a goddamn thing she doesn't want to do, and you can't keep a peevish dad from taking every failure of his kids to conform to his expectations personally.
But who knows what other lessons we'll learn. There's another swim class this afternoon, and two more following that one.