As I stepped out of the car, all I could hear was the sound of kids crying and screaming, “Mommy,” “Mommy.” I walked around the car to the back passenger side door, unbuckled my son, kissed his forehead as I picked him out of his car seat. He held on to my shirt with his hands and kept sucking his paci, unfazed by the sound of screaming kids. I grabbed his diaper bag from the front seat and shut the car door.
We walked over to the fence; I unlocked the fence gate where we could enter the pool area. As my son and I walked up the red brick pavers, the swimming instructor greeted us from inside the pool. She was working with another student. I walked over to the picnic table and took a seat and sat my son on my lap. Another parent guided me to the file box of folders and told me to find my child’s folder, fill out the paperwork for today, and bring it over to the instructor when it was time for his lesson.
Lessons took place every day Monday through Friday for 10 minutes, and we had to arrive 15 minutes before our lesson time. It was like clockwork. The instructor never stepped out of the pool. Parents knew the drill, and veteran parents would guide and help the new parents.
I filled out the daily questions in the folder and signed the papers as my son watched all the kids and smiled at people. He was happy. I took off his shoes, changed him into his swim diaper, bathing suit, and took out the towels from our bag. We sat off to the side waiting for his lesson to start.
The little girl in the swimming lesson before was about 2 years old. She screamed the whole lesson. It never fazed the instructor. She kept going on with the lesson. I wondered in that instant how my son would do this first lesson and let out a sigh of relief that he was only 6 months old, and he would not be screaming out the word “mommy.”
A few moments later, the instructor motioned us over. She directed me to lay out two towels on the pool deck. I sat my son on the towels. He put his feet in the water and began kicking them and splashing water everywhere. She looked through the paperwork, the questions I had just answered, and the intake form.
Then she picked him up and brought him into the pool with her. At first, she walked around the inside of the pool with him getting him wet. He was slapping his hands on the water splashing and smiling. She faced him toward her and bounced up and down with him as she walked around the inside of the pool.
Without warning, she placed him entirely underwater. At that moment, I have never felt so helpless as a parent. My heart sank to my feet, and I immediately stood up from my seat. My son came up screaming, and he was not happy. I could see him looking for me. She patted his back and comforted him while she waited for him to burp.
The first few days of watching swimming lessons were one of the hardest parenting moments for me. I watched swimming lessons helplessly from outside of the pool. Unable to comfort my child when he cried. Watching his facial expressions as he looked at me for help and being unable to help him broke my heart. I could only hide my worries behind my smile and calm demeanor and cheer him on every time he looked at me. I found comfort in my decision to start swim lessons at his age. My child would have knowledge of swimming survival skills that could save his life.
A child can drown in as little as an inch of water in less than one minute. Drowning is silent and usually without warning, no screams or a splash. According to the CDC, drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental deaths worldwide, particularly in children and adolescents under the age of 19. From 2005 to 2009 in the U.S., children, 1 to 4 years old, had the highest drowning mortality rates, and drowning was the second most common cause of death (after congenital anomalies). Drowning was the second most common cause of death by injury in children ages 5 to 9 years old, and the third leading cause for children under 1 year old and ages 10 to 19.
By the end of the third day of swimming lessons, my son no longer cried at all. I believe it was his way of comforting me as though he knew he needed to learn those swimming survival skills. I think he enjoyed his swimming lessons. By the end of the session, he tested out and “graduated” the first level. He learned to float on his back, roll over if he was face down in the water, and could roll over and float fully clothed, in a diaper and with shoes on. We would still have to go back every six months for refresher lessons and each year for lessons to build skills he has already learned.
My son is currently 5 ½ years old. He loves swimming and has no memory of crying from those early swimming lessons at 6 months old. He is a confident swimmer and diver. I believe swimming lessons at 6 months old empowered him. Swimming survival skills taught him body awareness, made him comfortable in the water, and gave him self-confidence to try and learn other things.
Many people thought I was crazy and were shocked that I started swimming lessons with my 6-month-old baby, but I knew in my heart it was the right choice. I never wanted my son to be a drowning statistic. Drowning is preventable. I could prevent my child from drowning with swimming survival skills, constant supervision, and by learning water safety myself.