I’m not in the mood for a teachable moment right now, I thought as I sensed Sadie’s reluctance to get in the pool. I’d just spent $10.00 to park and dragged both her and Simon through a snowstorm for the lesson so there was no way I was backing down. Plus, it took us five minutes to peel off our winter gear. I needed a rest, and that’s what I planned to do during Sadie’s lesson.
“Let’s go meet the teacher,” I said.
Sadie grabbed my leg and wouldn’t let go, which didn’t feel restful at all. I hobbled us over to the edge of the pool. By the time I introduced myself to the instructor, Sadie was full-out bawling. No words. Just tears.
“Honey, it’s really important to learn how to swim. And you’re good at it. You’re already at level 3. Let’s give it a try this morning.”
She was having none of it. She was crying and shaking, her body rigid with resistance. Somehow she got into the water and the instructor did a little jig with her, but then she was headed back toward the ladder.
I helped her out and weighed my options. One: I could towel her off, and we could all go home. Two: I could keep trying to sweet talk her into the pool with promises of improved self-esteem for having faced her fears. Three: I could go the safety route, reminding her that being safe around water is very important.
As I held her shaking body, I thought of some d-bags I don’t even know. I had the pleasure of their acquaintance almost a year ago when they deigned to comment on a piece I wrote at The Huffington Post. Nothing like caustic comments to take the thrill out of publishing for a national, on-line magazine. My piece there was about Sadie’s struggle a year ago during a dance recital—she’d been excited for the performance, but when it was curtain time, she froze and steadfastly refused to perform. I didn’t force her; I felt proud that she was able to say No in the face of the pressure to perform. I speculated that the No I saw in Sadie might one day keep her from turning to drugs because of peer pressure or dancing topless for a living or saying yes to sex with someone when really she wants to say No.
Some commenters saw it differently. They saw in me a mother who let her daughter “cop out,” thereby depriving her of the chance to learn commitment. According to their comments, I was a weak-willed sissy who was fostering the same defect of character in my daughter.
I didn’t know I carried those people with me still until I was poolside faced with another of Sadie’s refusals.
Would those commenters have me throw a shivering four-year old back into a pool against her will? Maybe. Am I supposed to threaten and shame her into the pool? We paid for these lessons! Why are you being a crybaby about this? I couldn’t imagine saying that to Sadie under any circumstances, much less in the face of her obvious terror.
The better question was: Why was I letting some anonymous strangers dictate my parenting? Why do they get a say in this?
I wouldn’t call our exit from the natatorium victorious or triumphant. But we weren’t defeated either. We simply left, having agreed that we’ll take a break from swimming lessons for a little while. I’m not sure if I taught Sadie anything that day, but I learned that my loyalty belongs to her, and not to Anonymous, whose pastimes include offering negative feedback to strangers on-line.