Mommy stood waist deep in a Chicago Park District Pool. Lil Buddy stood facing her, standing on the edge. Mommy wanted to swim. Lil Buddy did not.
"No, Mama!" he pleaded. He called her Mama when he felt anxious or needy. She reached for him and he backed away.
"Cmon, Lil Buddy," said Mommy, sweetly. "C'mon," she said in her sweetest, calmest voice, "I got you."
Over and over again she said, "C'mon Lil Buddy, I got you. Now just get in. Put your whole body in."
"Just my toes!"
"No, you promised. Your whole body. We talked about this."
"No. Just toes!"
Mommy leaned in and said, under her breath, "We'll get ice cream! Only if you put your whole body in." The whole pool, filled, as it was, with successful parents, did not need to know about this.
"But I wanna get ice cream!" Whined Lil Buddy at the top of his lungs. Mommy felt stares but didn't turn to look. She stayed focused on her almost five year old boy, so big, but seeming so small and afraid right now. What was it about swimming that made his whole body anxious? She thought back to the previous summers, all spent day after day at this very same neighborhood pool. What was different this year?
"Honey," she told him, "you can touch the bottom here. The water will only come up to your neck. You can touch."
"There is not very much water?"
"No, no there is not."
"I can touch?"
"Yes, yes, you can! Now come on in. Should I help you?"
"No! I'll come in myself!"
"Okay." But Lil Buddy stood there, fidgeting and thinking and over thinking. Mommy stood there too, thinking of the parents she had spoken to recently who admitted their very own children had the same issues. Where were these parents today? Certainly not in this pool. Mommy looked around and saw only happy swimming preschool age children and toddlers. They kicked and splashed and jumped off the side of the pool into their parents' arms.
"He's just always loved the water!" said one mom to another. "We've been coming here since he was a baby!" She gushed.
Well, so have we, thought Mommy.
"Mommy, are they gonna blow the whistle? Is it time to go? Do you think they will blow the whistle? And if they do will they blow the whistle because someone is horsing around?"
"No, Lil Buddy. And don't worry about that, " said Mommy. "Let's just get in the pool while there's still time"
"Are we running out of time? Because they are going to blow the whistle?"
"Lil Buddy!" said Mommy, "Forget the whistle, okay? now let's get in the pool and practice, just like you promised."
"But I don't want to!"
"Why?" Mommy asked, desperate.
"I just want to put my toes in." And lil buddy dropped to his bottom and swung his feet around the edge, dipping his toes in. He giggled with excitement and sparkled in him arms and hands.
"Good!" Said Mommy, "Now, let me help you in," and she reached for him and he backed 20 feet away.
"Lil Buddy, come back here right now!" Mommy demanded.
Mommy sighed and thought of the well meaning Mom at the YMCA who had incurred her secret wrath. After observing Lil Buddy's behavior in swim class, the well meaning concerned mom had asked Mommy, "Does he like baths?" Mommy had to count to ten in five languages before she could answer this gal. But in her head, Mommy answered:
What the fuck do you mean by 'Does he like baths?' He's 5 years old.
And in her head, Mommy also said this:
Oh, no. He hates baths. We have to chase him around the house just to give him a sponge bath. It's so difficult that sometimes I just let him go for weeks without bathing.
But right then and there, at the Y, all Mommy could say was, "Yes he likes baths. He loves the water."
Mommy wondered what she would do if one of these parents made such a comment. She decided to go with sarcasm if the opportunity arose. It didn't.
The only opportunity that did arise was when the lifeguard blew her whistle to warn someone about horsing around. Lil Buddy sat down and watched the lifeguard move from her post to the offending child. He was distracted. Mommy knew there were only 5 minutes left of parent and tot swim so she picked up his curled up body and pulled him in.
"Noooo!" cried Lil buddy and he kicked and screamed. It was unpleasant and Mommy tried to encourage him to swim, but he wouldn't. "I wanna hold on!" he shouted. So Mommy let him take hold of the pool's edge and he promptly pulled himself out and backed away another 20 feet. Mommy followed this time. The lifeguard blew the whistle.
"Okay, let's dry off," she said, trying to be cool.
"Mommy" said Lil Buddy, "are you so proud of me? I put my whole body in!"
Mommy thought for a moment and said, "yes. But next time, you do it by yourself, okay?"
"Okay," he said. "Can we sit on the steps and watch people swim?"