If you’ve been reading this blog lately you’ll know that swim lessons are not our favorite thing. At Alex’s second lesson he got overconfident and jumped before his instructor was ready. She didn’t react quickly enough, and under he went. Since then he has been…well, let’s just call it vehemently opposed to swim lessons. And Julianna howls her way through every lesson, too, so you can imagine how much Mommy looks forward to the longest half hour of the entire week.
Joanne is a very firm teacher, not a lot of humor evident, and zero warm fuzzies. Still, she emanates confidence and competence. An adult can appreciate that. The three-year-old, not so much. Today we were late. I told Alex to sit down on the red step and dashed into the other end of the pool with Julianna. Before I reached the tots class, he was wailing about a missing toy, and Joanne was calling in backup in the form of another employee. The crying continued, but I ignored it, and at some point during the half hour, it stopped. I don’t know exactly when because Julianna, miracle of miracles, was actually enjoying herself today!
Afterward, Joanne told me that she had brought some peer pressure to bear. How many people want to hear Alex crying? How many people want Alex to stop crying? It worked, apparently, because by 10:25 he was swimming around in her arms looking unhappy, but not tragic, which is his usual expression.
I have every sympathy for her doing whatever it takes to get a stubborn, whiny kid to cooperate. And yet I writhe with empathy for my child. I know very well what it feels like to be shamed. Justly, unjustly—it doesn’t matter much. What a soul-shredding experience it is—like being dragged over a grater. And as often as I lose patience, shout, get angry, I don’t think Alex has ever experienced being shamed…mocked, even.
As a parent, I try to shield my child from…well, I don’t believe in protecting them from everything—certain things are a part of life, like death and dying, and sexuality, and putting up a big taboo on those topics makes them seem scary and evil instead of natural, and beautiful in their appropriate settings. Alex is a deeply intelligent little guy, a communicator to the core. So we deal in some of those big ideas, even though my first instinct is to flee from the questions.
But this …this is something different. I know it’s a lesson he will learn and learn again countless times in his life. The sting of those moments never goes away. I still cringe when I remember them from my own life. It’s a hard thing for a mother to watch her child experience his first swipe across the soul-shredder. I can only hope that someday, that raw, smarting soul will develop a thick skin.