Michelle Martin

Jumping in the deep end

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Jumping in the deep end of the pool. Just dipping a toe in the water. Getting in over your head.

People use all kinds of metaphors and figures of speech based on being in the water. On a roll? Your work is going swimmingly. Can’t seem to catch up? You’re drowning in paperwork.

Maybe that’s because water is a bit of an unnatural environment for us. Looking at water calms people down, and getting wet can be deliciously refreshing on a hot day. But young children seem to instinctively fear having their face in water — every toddler swimming class I’ve ever seen starts with blowing bubbles to get them to get their faces wet — and it’s a big step when they are willing to sink down and let the water close over their heads.

All of my children have been cautious souls as toddlers, not the kind to leap from the top of the stairs or climb too high or wander too far or even want to ride a roller coaster. Frank was perhaps the most adventurous, the most willing to try something that was a bit uncomfortable. So when Teresa started swimming lessons last year, it wasn’t really a surprise that she didn’t take to it like, well, a duck to water.

In fact, she cried for half the class period.

Now, months on, she has adjusted. She is learning to scoop into the water with her hands to propel herself across the pool to catch the rubber duck or the boat floating there. She kicks with her feet and floats and generally does what is asked. Sometimes she even lets go of the teacher.

One fear remains: Jumping in the pool. She starts talking about it the day before. “I don’t want to go to swimming tomorrow,” she says. “I don’t want to jump in.” And she keeps talking about it until we are on the way to swimming, extracting a promise from me to tell the teacher she doesn’t want to jump in.

I promise, and I do tell the teacher, who smiles and nods and proceeds with the class.

At the end, her class, usually a group of four 4-year-olds, lines up by the diving blocks. One by one, they take the lifeguard’s hand and climb up on the block. Each child has a foam tube — a swimming noodle — tied securely around his or her middle and goggles clamped over his or her eyes. The lifeguard holds their hands as they jump, letting go as they fall into the grasp of the teacher waiting in the water.

Teresa gets in line with the rest, takes her turn to jump with barely a moment’s hesitation, flashes me a smile and a thumbs-up as she climbs out of the pool to jump again, relief and pride at conquering that brief loss of control evident on her face.

I’m pretty sure that the next week, the day before swimming class, she’ll say, “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to jump in.” And then she will, and it will be good. Be not afraid, Jesus told his disciples. Sometimes, you have to jump in to the deep end of the pool.


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