In early February of this year, I took Andrew to a Boy Scout swim night. He was going to cross over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts later that month and we thought it would be good for him to spend time with the boys in his new troop and also work on swimming skills. He will be going to Boy Scout camp this summer and needs to pass a swimming test before participating in any water activities, even ones like canoeing, where everyone will be wearing life jackets.
As I told the other kids good-bye on our way out of the house, Dutch asked me with tears in his eyes, “Is Andrew going to die?”
There’s a heart-wrencher for you.
“No, honey. Of course not. I will be there the whole time. I won’t take my eyes off of him. He will be fine. You’ll see.”
We arrived at the pool, Andrew changed clothes, I found a spot on the bleachers where I could see the whole pool easily. The leaders gathered the boys, talked a little, and off they went. Many boys dived right in the deep section, 15ft water. I was stunned.
Oh yeah, I shouldn’t be stunned. That’s normal.
Some boys gathered with one leader in particular. He was going over the swim test requirements and was willing to test the boys that night. Requirements like diving into water, taking four strokes underneath the water, then surfacing and swimming to the other side. Andrew listened to two or three before he turned away from the group.
“I’m not doing that, Mom. I’m going to go swim over there.”
In the shallow end.
He stayed within reach of the side in the shallow end of the pool for the entire hour of swimming.
While I sat crying, poolside.
He played with some other boys and had a great time. But he never left the perimeter of the pool.
While I looked up swimming lessons on my phone.
We had had all the kids in summer lessons since the incident. During the school year, though, Andrew’s skills and bravery seemed to have lapsed. My boy. My sweet, smart, handsome boy was still afraid.
After the swim night was over, I drove straight to the YMCA and I signed our family up for a membership and put Andrew in the next session of swimming lessons that were to begin in two weeks time.
Michael and I decided that our new family activity was going to be swimming. We decided to put the kids in near constant swimming lessons until we are confident in their water skills. Andrew had been in lessons and spent many, many hours in a pool since his incident. Honestly, though, we were pretty easy on him about facing his fear of the deep water. It’s what he needed at the time. But as we approached two years past it and saw that it really was becoming a detriment in his life, we knew it was time for a different tactic.
I sat nervously watching the first lesson progress. The instructor had been informed of Andrew’s incident but I was still unsure of how things would go. They warmed up by swimming laps with kickboards. I knew he could do that. No problem.
I saw them start to work on strokes. The first two times Andrew didn’t raise his hand to be next like the other kids did. He waited to be called on last. My heart was in my throat.
Soon, though, Andrew volunteered to be third.
I was so proud of him in that moment. My heart swelled. I knew, even if no one else did, what a courageous thing that was for him to do.
The rest of the lesson proceeded with Andrew volunteering, not necessarily first but within the first four (of about 8 kids). At the end of the lesson, I told Andrew that I was so very, very proud of him.
He said, “I was a little nervous at first but then I told myself that I need to just man up and do it!”
My 11yo told himself to man up. Wow.
Lessons went on, twice a week for five weeks. We took all the kids to open swim on the weekends. One day in March, the instructor took the kids to the deep end of the pool (9ft deep) and started explaining about diving.
Once again, my heart was in my throat.
I watched intensely. I had no idea how Andrew was going to react to this.
My boy. My sweet, smart, handsome boy volunteered to be third.
My boy. My boy dove into the water. Of his own accord. Without a life jacket.
He swam to the side of the pool underwater before surfacing.
While I sat crying, poolside.
I was certain I looked like an idiot. Who cries at their kid’s swimming lessons?
Me. That’s who.
Andrew came to me with a shining, happy face when the lesson was done. “Did you see me, mom?”
“I did! And I am so very, very, very proud of you.”
“Mom, are you crying?”
“Of course I am! What else would I be doing when I know how hard that was for you to do?”
Andrew finished his session and we started all four kids in the next session. Andrew is so much more comfortable in the water, we didn’t bother to tell his instructor about Andrew’s past. He is no longer so different from his peers in the water.
He still has a ways to go. We are still working up to the Boy Scout swim test. But he has confidence. His fear is subsiding.
On the way home from one of his lessons, I talked to Andrew about life-altering moments. I said that when you experience something that has a major impact on your life, there are different ways to handle it. In his instance, after his drowning, he could either spend the rest of his life afraid of water or he could overcome his fear and possibly become a life guard and save other people from what happened to him.
I asked him to think about what he wanted his life story to be.
He didn’t give me a direct answer at the time.
But he has mentioned since then something about when he becomes a life guard someday.
And you can bet that when he does pass that test, I will be there.
I’m already looking forward to it.