Sink or Swim

It was about two months ago that I broke the news to my parents about our upcoming journey to move aboard our 37′ Cruisers Yacht, and take a year to cruise the Caribbean, ending up in St. Croix. Had I been able to make the two calls to my Mom and Dad at once they would have both replied in unison, “You had better get the kids into swimming lessons, yesterday”.

Sink or swim

Our children, Blake and Bianca are 3 and 5 years old respectively, and when my Mom, their GG (Grandma Gail) arrived from California offering to take them swimming at the hotel pool, Bianca replies with an exuberant “Yesss! We are GREAT swimmers”. In that moment all I could do was secretly hope that Bianca was right, and that they had somehow learned how to swim through osmosis.

They ran out of the door donning their swim goggles and off they went. A big nervous smile plastered on my face. I had not yet told my Mom what a disaster they were in the water, in fear of her opinion on our upcoming Caribbean bound, move to our boat..

Swimming on Land

Swimming on Land

Upon arriving back home several hours later my Mom began to describe their day of “swimming”. The conversation went on with her describing to me the different ways Bianca almost drown herself, in the hotel pool. Her conviction that she is the best swimmer ever almost sank her spirits. Her brother didn’t help. Blake just simply refused to go into the water more than ankle-deep, although this didn’t stop him from tossing his toys into the deep end of the pool and crying for his sister to retrieve them, then watching sister sink.

“You know they don’t know how to swim… Right?” My Mom says.

“Well yeah, um, you know we’re working on it.”

I’m sure my Mom was half kidding, but the over all conversation led me to believe that she had major doubts about the children’s safety on our journey. We had them signed up for swimming lessons at our gym. We changed our minds after our research indicated that most swim programs guaranteed an unassisted 5 foot swim after 8-40 30 minute lessons.

We found www.mscathyswimaustin.com, who’s clients boast their kids swim a minimum of 45 feet in 8 lessons as well as get themselves out of the pool unassisted. Stay tuned for video of our little ones taking this class. There are also great videos and information on Cathy’s site.

Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88 percent among children aged one to four years. (Source: Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 2009)

According to principal research association, Bernadette Matthews. Three out of five children are leaving primary school without the ability to swim to basic standards.

Research also reveals that 60 percent of children under the age of 12 cannot swim 50 meters without assistance or stay afloat for two minutes.

The ugly truth is, it is still a struggle for me to get in the water myself and is the big reason that the kids have not learned to swim yet, three summers in a row now.

When I was a young girl my parents built a beautiful lake off of the back of our house in California. It had always been a dream of my Dad’s to have a place he could go fishing whenever he felt like it. He wanted to create a place reminiscent of Disneyland.  He began digging the lake when I was just a year old, although my Dad was paralyzed with the thought of my brother and I drowning. By the time I was a toddler the lake was finished and filled. I enjoyed catching frogs and fish around the water’s edge. I loved being in and around the water and dad realized his dream.

My Dad Still lives in the place where we grew up

My Dad Still lives in the place where we grew up

The possibility of us drowning became crippling for my Dad and he devised what he thought was a foolproof plan. Why not scare me straight? Dad told me tales of the giant alligator that ate children, and how he wouldn’t be able to save me from the dark blue water if I fell in. He waited for me to gain the courage to swim into the shallows as my Mom cheered me on from the dock with her feet in the cool water. He slipped into the water without notice and swam beneath the murky water to yank me under by my skinny little seven-year-old ankle, holding on until just before I thought I would breath in the water.

My Father found success in his fear tactic, I full heartedly believed that if I got to close to the water a giant beast would jump from the depths and eat me. I was scared straight. Two things happened by the time I was grown, I didn’t drown in the lake that he built and I grew up to have a crippling phobia of the water.  His fear had become my fear.

Now my mother on the other hand swam competitively for most of her life. She worked patiently in opposite union with my Dad, for years on my swimming technique in hopes of passing down her aquatic talent. So when she signed me up for the barracuda swim team, she was in for a big surprise.  I was a horrible swimmer. I flung my limbs frantically while sinking.  There was no amount of one-on-one coaching that could help me. All I could do was to get out as fast as possible, but unfortunately for my mom the fastest way for me to do so was not a “legal” swim stroke. I did was a horrible blend of freestyle and breaststroke. It resembled a flailing cat that just landed in a piranha-invested pool.

Mom and I Swim Team Circa 1992

Mom and I Swim Team Circa 1992

I have had a phobia of water for the majority of my life, while spending much of my young adulthood going to the lake. I stayed in six inches of water and happily watched my friends dive from the docks.

Several years and two kids later, I decided it was time to just get over it. I would learn the difference between a fear and a phobia. I signed myself up for a tough mudder, which is similar to a mini triathlon. It started off famously and quickly found my stride and was at the front of the pack. I approached the final part of the race, swimming. I bravely burst into the water. (Surely would win some sort of prize right?)

“I was on swim team, I can do this,” I told myself, “I have no fear!”

I reached the middle of the channel and something unexplainable sucked the air from my lungs and froze my limbs. I began to sink helplessly. Was it the monster my Dad always warned me about? Thankfully this was very a controlled setting, and to my horror and relief, another swimmer participating in the race without much incident other than my damaged pride rescued me.

My research for this article includes the following definitions:

FEAR: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

PHOBIA : an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger but provokes anxiety and avoidance. Unlike the brief anxiety most people feel when they give a speech or take a test, a phobia is long-lasting, causes intense physical and psychological reactions, and can affect your ability to function normally at work or in social settings.

I vow to not make my fears my children’s fears.

So on that day I learned I couldn’t simply choose to cast aside a phobia. A phobia is something deep inside that will grip you and own your body (seriously). In the spirit of not passing down my “less desirable traits” to our children, I chose to stop my worry from manifesting into hear then morphing into a phobia. Instead I will take refuge in knowing that I am doing my best to prepare for what lies ahead.

I believe it is just simply in our DNA as Mother’s to worry about the well-being of our children; rather, we cannot control the outcome of our lives.   All we can do is prepare ourselves for the path ahead. Even though this is a simple statement it really helps me navigate through my doubts.   I have let go of the notion (almost completely) of putting GPS tracking bracelets on our kids, and making them wear their life jackets to bed at night. I want to teach our children to follow their dreams and trust the little voice inside them, and the best way for me to teach them is to model it in my own life.

Things that are new can be scary but we must not let our fear become us, nothing big or small was ever accomplished without risk. Salty air, warm sun, St. Croix here we come!

This is me testing the waters of St. Croix

This is me testing the waters of St. Croix

The knife is for the “water monster” Hey I’m still working on it!

The First Mate of Miss Lone Star

The First Mate of Miss Lone Star

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