Sink or Swim: Learning to want and wanting to learn.


Come on in…..the water’s warm…..and the sharks won’t bite……. if you swim fast enough!

My baby girl has a fighting spirit. She loudly protests when I call her my “baby” girl, but she is and always will be my baby. She’s my youngest and as my second (and last) baby, born into a family with a “big” brother (who was, at not yet 2 years old at the time of her birth, very much a baby himself), she has always had to fight for everything, including, (sadly, but unavoidably), my time and undivided attention!

I was the eldest of 3. I can’t pretend to know what it is like to fight for attention, let alone to constantly walk in someone’s shadow, or feel myself being compared to someone. Evidently for baby girl, she does seem to know. She may be a head shorter and a good deal less heavy and strong than her big brother, but if he HAS something, she wants it too, and if he can DO something, well, she wants to be able to do it too, and do it better! In short, she has learned, (from very early on) to want!

The realisation dawned on me in the last month that my baby (who turns 5 all too soon), will be at school when the school year starts in February and we will have even less time together; and, let’s face it, as child 2 she has had so much less of me than child 1 got. Ah….mother guilt!!! So, I am making the most of what ever time we have these holidays to spend quality one on one time with her, doing things SHE wants to do and also just hanging out, having cuddles, and telling each other how much we love each other (something she likes to do a lot lately).

First thing this year she wanted to do, was learn to swim. She decided (having no doubt watched me swim countless laps of the pool recently), that I needed to “learn”ie teach her.

Having said that my baby girl has a fighting spirit, she is also a delicate and sometimes apprehensive individual. The biggest battle for her in learning is having the courage to give things a go. She has been confidently swimming with a floatation device of some sort since she was about 18 months or less but was very reluctant about giving it up when we suggested trying to learn to swim. Until a couple of days ago.

New years Eve day, I asked big brother to leave his flippers off, as he had been accidentally (but painfully) kicking me and others with them on. Big brother had been very reluctant about giving up his flippers because they helped him swim well and quickly, and helped him stay above the surface (ie not “sink”). Both my kids are very lean and buoyancy is a constant battle. With flippers to the side, big brother had to try very hard to win that battle, but eventually he did (and since has voluntarily left the flippers off).

Watching big brother confidently motoring around the pool, free from encumbrances for a day was all it took to spur baby girl into action. As I mentioned previously, she had learned to want (whatever skills her brother had) before she could even articulate this. Now, particularly with my undivided attention (which she had on new years morn), she was able to tell me that she wanted to learn!

So after some breakfast, and after Daddy had readied the pool, we hopped in and began swimming lessons. My daughter was super keen, but now I was the one who was somewhat apprehensive.

I can swim. I can often be found in the morning or evening (or other times of the day lately) swimming laps of the pool, for exercise, or relaxation or a bit of both (I find I can get in the zone with it now). I wouldn’t call myself a “swimmer”, as such; I am sure my technique isn’t the most efficient, but, I wasn’t overly concerned with that.

I was more worried about my ability to teach my daughter. To be patient with her, to give enough praise, to give her confidence without making her over confident, to give the right feedback to help her and to keep her safe without wrapping her in bubble wrap.

Turns out I need not have been so worried. She was a great student because she wanted to learn. Within about 15 minutes, and with a little encouragement and feedback (mostly about breathing and when to have your mouth open and closed so as not to inhale the pool!), she was breast stroking the width of the pool. Two days later and she is swimming whole lengths and diving for things beneath the surface. Hard to tell who was most proud when she achieved her goal – me or her. Sounds crazy but I was more proud of her for learning to swim than when she learned to walk or talk or came out of nappies. I think this was because it was more than a milestone. Rather than being something she needed to do, or a natural part of development, it was something she wanted to learn to do and it was something she wanted ME to teach her.

In my professional life, in my personal life, in my musical life and in my life as a Mum, I have taught many people, of many ages, many things. You would think that would make me a confident teacher. Far from it. I am more than happy passing on information and skills I have to others, but this doesn’t make me confident in my ability as a teacher.

In the past couple of months more than one person in my life has (perhaps out of dire need) discussed with me the prospect of teaching skills or ideas I don’t feel 100 percent comfortable with myself yet. On one of these occasions I declined using time commitment as a convenient yet truthful excuse. The other I have not discussed further as I get the feeling that it is (or in future, will be) a requirement rather than a request, and one that will come when I am deemed (and hopefully feel) more ready. It’s also one that will no doubt help my skill development, my confidence, my ability to learn and to pass on learning effectively.

Yes. I will admit, it’s out of my comfort zone, but since venturing so far beyond my comfort zone has been a regular feature for me, my comfort zone has become quite an extensive territory with flexible borders……or perhaps a back yard pool that is rapidly expanding into a sea……I guess, when the time comes, rather than testing the water with a tentative toe, I will jump in bravely,  like my daughter, and give it a try. You never know if you will sink or swim until you get in the water.