"Where's Alex?" I asked, as I finished applying my daughter Megan's sunscreen. We had just arrived at our town pool, but Alex was out of sight.
Then I saw him, his white rash guard swim shirt catching my eye. He was all the way by the pool, about to go in. Jump in. His tan face relaxed and happy, he exuberantly yelled, "CANNONBALL!" as he splashed into the water.
He came up, laughing, wiping away the water from his eyes, then diving under again. Sure, I'd seen him improve a lot in his private swim lessons, but those were one on one with an instructor and a pool full of children with their instructors. This was a whole new situation- where he was applying his learning independently and joyfully, without any scaffolding or support.
I thought back to last summer, when we took a family trip to the suburbs of Chicago to visit my husband's brother and his family. They had a lovely pool for the children to swim, but Alex was petrified. He stood by the ladder and barely dipped in a toe. He cried. He refused to wear the floats we bought him or vest that would allow him to keep afloat. His fear was palpable. My husband and I knew we had to do something to help him, because Long Island summers are all about pools, and the beach, and water play. We didn't want Alex missing out on all the fun he could be having.
When Alex started his swim lessons in January, he was petrified. Unhappy about going. He held onto his instructor's neck with a fierce grip. She was patient and he slowly became more comfortable with the water. His next instructor was tougher, but encouraging. Under her guidance, he really began to lose his fear and he received his "Level 1" award. He worked with another instructor today and I watched, in awe, as he dipped his head under water and looked like a natural.
But it was later in the day, when we went as a family to our town pool, and Alex scurried away, excited to swim and splash, that I realized how much he has truly grown in a year. And it made me think of all the things that were put in place- instructors to SHOW Alex how to do it, time and opportunity to practice, expectations that he could learn and would learn, a playful environment at camp where he could try out his new swim techniques with friends in a fun setting, and the gift of being a year older- more mature, more confident. This makes me think of our students, when they seemingly are stuck or "failing", just like Alex was last summer. It made me remember that those moments don't define a person's ability and aren't final judgments. One moment we cannot do something, but the next moment we can do it a little better, and then more moments and more chances lead to new skills developing. We need someone to show us, to believe in us, to give us chances to practice, to let us try our skills in a non-threatening setting. We need the gift of time.
It may be summer, but my teacher brain can't stop, won't stop, and my son's triumphant day at the pool reminds me of what I've got to do for my students, come September.