We had been telling him for like two weeks.

“You’re all signed up for swimming lessons, buddy. You excited?”
“You finally get to jump in the pool! Isn’t that exciting?”

“You’re gonna learn how to swim as fast as you can run. Won’t that be cool?”

It was a combination of preparation and sales pitch. Get the idea in his head and then make him like it. Build his excitement so much that the first day of swimming lessons could not possibly come soon enough. And judging by his positive responses, it seemed to be working. That Sunday night before he went to bed, I reminded him once more. He smiled and nodded his head. Off to bed he went, presumably to dream about being a fish.

The next morning, our house reverberated with panic. He would not be putting on his swim suit, he informed us. He would not be allowing any strangers to toss him into the piranha-infested waters of the daycare’s swimming pool. He would remain high and dry like a sensible person should. Never mind that he had been swimming before. Never mind how many times we had told him this day was coming, how many times he told us that he wanted to do it. There would be no swimming lessons for this child, a fact made all the more clear by the way he ran from me every time I walked toward him with his swim suit. You’d have thought it was a chainsaw.

The two year old was no help. “I want to go swimming!” he repeated on an endless loop. One of our children is slightly more careful than the other.

We caved, my wife and I. I am neither ashamed nor proud of this decision. The call had to be made and we made it. In spite of the fact that he had been in water before, the boy was clearly terrified, so we thought that perhaps he would do better in a class where we could be with him. He went to daycare that day in his usual clothes, no swimsuit, and I asked the nice lady in the front office to kindly mark his name off of the list.

We made it through that day relatively unscathed save this new gray hair in my beard. Then shortly after that, we went to a friend’s house, a lovely home that features, among other lovely selling points, a nice clean cement pond with one end as shallow as Perez Hilton. The two year old was ready to jump right in. From an airplane. With no parachute. With a knife in his teeth. Did I mention my children are different? Eldest was a bit more hesitant, but once all the encouragement and assurances sank in, he made the plunge, and we didn’t set foot back on dry land for another three hours.

The next day, he looked up at me and said, “Daddy, I’m ready for swimming lessons now.”

So once again, we signed him up, and once again, we made with the daily sales pitch/reminders that super happy fun time swimming lessons were on their way. And once again the big day arrived, only to be greeted by yet another round of ardent refusals to participate in any kind of aquatics-related education. Unbelievable, and yet, I must admit, not entirely unexpected.
“I wanna go swimming!” said the two year old once more.

“I know, son, I know. Let’s get those tubes out of your ears first.”

My wife and I were at a loss. And then she was out the door and off to work, leaving me to make the final call. So I made it. I demanded that he go to swimming lessons. Demand? No, I forced him. Yes I did. Yes I did. He protested, he fumed, he called me BABY! But finally, he put on that swim suit. He was so obviously pissed off when I left him in his class room that several of his little friends looked up at me and asked, “Why is he mad?” And you know what? I told them why. Because he doesn’t want to swim. Maybe I could get a little positive peer pressure working for me.

I agonized over my decision all day. It’s not like we’re talking about basket weaving classes here, we’re talking about a skill that can potentially save your life. But had I pushed too hard? Had I turned him off of ever wanting to set another toe in liquid ever again? Had my belief in the importance of knowing how to swim caused me to do something that would prevent him from ever learning how? By the end of the day, I could barely wait to pick him up to see how it went.

As soon as I saw his face, I breathed easy for the first time all day. He had a great time. And he continued to have a great time for the next two weeks, at the end of which his Mom and I went and watched him in his class, where it was clear that he was enjoying himself immensely, even if there were some things he was still too scared to try on his own. The very next weekend, we all went down to the community pool where I had to stop the two year old from toddling off into the deep end, and where both boys screamed bloody murder when we told them it was time to go home.

So I guess things worked out okay in the end. but truth be told, I’m still not sure how I feel about the way I dealt with the situation. Though I’m not sure why, exactly. We make our kids do things all the time. We make them not run in the street or jump into eight feet of water. We make them take a bath if they need it. We make them not steal things at the grocery store. We make them go to bed. We don’t shove veggies down their throats, but we at least try to make them eat something besides graham crackers and goldfish.
At least I know my youngest kid will go willingly.