I Won't Be THAT Mom
The ripples of the water in the pool are tame compared to the waves of inner turmoil I feel. My face is flushed, and I don’t want my swim lessons to end. Because even though I’m not looking at her, I can feel her fuming from the other side of the pool. I know once we leave the eyes of the other parents and children, her wrath against me will be unleashed. At the tender age of 8, I’m already battle-weary and know I’m a disappointment to my mother. Today’s swim lesson only hammers the point home even further.
The lesson ends and I slowly climb out of the pool and walk over to get my towel. The lifeguard instructor for my class makes the rounds, handing out certificates to those who have passed to the next level of swimming instruction. I’m the only student in my class who doesn’t get one, due to my fear of keeping my face in the water for longer than a few seconds. My mom surprisingly doesn’t say anything, which makes her angry glare easier to stomach. I think, Maybe it won’t be so bad.
We drive home in silence. Once we get inside the house, she grabs my arm and marches me to the bathroom. My reprieve is over. I’m afraid, but also curiously detached, wondering what my punishment will be this time and why she hates me so much.
She turns the water on in the tub and I stand there in my wet bathing suit, shivering and waiting. The waiting is actually the worst part. I prepare myself to get in, but instead, she tells me to lean over and put my face next to the faucet. I do it, but I’m terrified because she’s behind me and I can’t anticipate what’s going to happen next.
She pushes my head into the running water. I gasp because it’s freezing cold. All the while she’s saying things like, What is wrong with you?! You just have to put your face in the water and hold your breath. Why am I wasting my money on lessons? Do you know how embarrassing it is when the other kids get their certificates, but you have to take the class again?
I don’t respond because a response will just make it worse. My tears mix in with the water and my neck and shoulders begin to ache from leaning over. Finally, she gives my head a shove and tells me to go change and get out of her sight.
Alone in my room, my sadness and humiliation turn to fiery anger. I won’t be that mom, I vow.
I signed my two sons up for swim lessons this summer. They are 8 and 6 years old and have had limited exposure to the water. This is their very first time taking swim classes. They are both understandably afraid.
Will, my youngest, asks me, Mom? What if I can’t do it? What if I don’t learn how to swim right away? I hug him close, thoughts racing back to my 8-year-old self and the ice cold water pouring over my head. I say, Don’t worry, sweetheart. Just try your best. Everybody learns at a different pace. I’m so proud of you, no matter what. He smiles and leans his little head on my shoulder.
I won’t be that mom.
I’m sitting poolside, basking in the warm sunlight, watching my kids take their swim lessons. Will is afraid to do “bobs” - a move that entails going under the water for 1 second and jumping back up. He squats down and when the water reaches his ears, he panics and comes back up. He glances over at me, worry written all over his face. I smile and give him a thumbs up, mentally sending him all the encouragement and love I have in my being.
My oldest, Dom, is afraid to jump off the diving board into the waiting arms of the lifeguard. Finally, another instructor drops him slowly and gently off the board. He goes under the surface for a moment and comes back up, steadied by his teacher. He glances over at me, disappointed in himself because he didn’t jump. I’m ready with my thumbs up and my smile. You did great, I mouth to him.
We get home from the pool and my boys run into the house. Their whoops of glee echo in the hallway. That was fun, Mom! Can we do this every summer?
I glance at the tub in the bathroom as I walk by, defiance written all over my body and I shut the door purposefully. Absolutely, guys! I’m so proud of you, you did great.
I’m not perfect, but I won’t be that mom. I will never be THAT mom.