Learning to swim

According to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Mining, Land, and Water, our charming little state of Alaska has more than 3 million lakes, more than 12,000 rivers, thousands of streams and creeks, and an estimated 100,000 glaciers. Not too shabby. These sort of facts moved me to put my daughter into swim lessons. My parents happen to live on one of those 3 million lakes, so Papa likes to take her on the boat and even with the benefits of a life jacket, there is comfort in knowing she can swim.


Life seems so busy during her school year, so I made the decision to save the swim lessons for summer time. Also, during winter time when you’re surrounded by snow, the last thing on my mind is being in a bathing suit in a pool. If I’m going to be in a bathing suit in winter time, it’s because I got on a plane to Hawaii to sit on a beach while sipping a mojito. A girl can dream.

With the blessing of no school in session, swim lessons were every day for two weeks. This is good, because there’s no chance of “forgetting” and it’s constant. This was especially good in our circumstances, because my daughter wasn’t exactly happy to learn how to swim, thus needing the constant push. She is a gradual learner that takes her time. She would rather study a roller coaster before getting on it, while I would just mindlessly get on it and pray for the best. But in any case there are times were all the knowledge in the world can’t meet true experience, and swimming is exactly that. You have to just ... do it. She hated that.

I don’t blame her, because you can know what an action looks like, but your body doesn’t exactly follow up. I know the rules of basketball and understand the game, but I am 5 feet tall which can be quite limiting. Just because other people have sweet dance moves doesn’t mean I should join in. When I dance and my hands leave my side, they’re gone for days. They’re going left, right, up, and down. They shake. The last time I danced in public the music moved me to stick them under my armpits and flap my arms. I danced like a chicken.

So if anyone understands wanting to accomplish something just by watching it, but not being able to actually deliver, it’s me. I will just have to continue to impress my full length mirror by practicing my sweet moves in the privacy of my home.

Every morning was me trying to cope with a 7-year-old having a nervous breakdown. She was scared of being let go in the water. (In case you are naïve like me, yes, they let go of your kid in water. They have to or it would be like trying to lose weight by sitting on the couch.) The start of her first week was heartbreaking crying, small nervous effort, and slow success. The end of the first week, she started to learn to do things she didn’t know how to do in the beginning. She recognized progress. It didn’t help her self-esteem quite yet, but it showed her she was docile. The beginning of the second week was her worst breakdown ever and I was going to quit. Oddly, by the end of that very session, something clicked inside her. My prayers were answered. She got in the water, found determination, and challenged herself. By the end of the second week her self esteem was sky high. She was successfully swimming and currently enjoys it as one of her favorite hobbies. It’s a story of perseverance. But also, it was a lesson to her mom that when times get tough not to wuss out. Growth isn’t always easy. In her defense, she is normally pretty focused and eager to learn. My focus levels aren’t great. While writing this, I paused to laugh at an owl commercial.

Here’s the thing: Learning life skills are important. Whether it’s socially, intellectually, or physically, pushing ourselves in any area is going to be a trial. If it’s not, you’re probably not pushing hard enough. If you are, it’s probably going to feel a little stressful at first, but by the end you will be proud of yourself for doing it. It’s a good reminder for myself and my own personal goals. I offered my daughter motivation, encouragement, bribes, and a story about crying for 2 weeks when I started college, but in the end it was her own decision to learn how to swim. We should delight in our accomplishments and others as well. It’s an important lesson to remember we have the capability for triumph!

Kasi McClure enjoys being a wife and mother of two in Kenai. She can be reached at columnkasi@gmail.com.


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