While my daughter loves the water, she doesn’t know what swimming is. Last year while on vacation, she exclaimed she was swimming when really all she was doing was wildly flailing her arms around and splashing up water. So, of course I went to the local indoor pool and enrolled her in swimming lessons. Little did I realize what the lessons entailed. Apparently parents aren’t allowed to sit at the edge of the pool hovering over their children as the instructor teaches a swimming lesson. I have to sit all the way at the other end of the pool watching my baby from the bleachers.
When the instructor announced this parental exile, worst case scenarios flooded my head. What if my little girl went under the water? What if she couldn’t get back up? How would I save her? Never mind the dozen surrounding instructors and lifeguard who would grab her in an instant.
Nevertheless, I dutifully brought Reagan to her first day of swimming lessons. She seemed nervous. Reagan became very quiet and wouldn’t make eye contact when the swim instructor came over to us. She announced she was ready to begin her lesson, took Reagan by the hand and led her to the other side of the pool.
I watched as she sat at the edge of the pool. The book I brought to read remained untouched as I stared at Reagan through the entirety of her lesson. My stare was so bad that my eyes must have felt like daggers. The instructor turned, unprompted, several times to look at me. Then, I was practically weeping as the instructor made my child jump into the water (and right into her arms, mind you). Apparently, I’m a full-on freak parent. But this was to be expected.
Years ago, I was just as overprotective with my dog. My sweet little Sawyer. Brendan, Sawyer and I headed to my friend’s house on Long Island so we could go to some drink-fest out east. My mom was there to pick up Sawyer since we were expected to be gone all day, and I felt bad leaving a little puppy all alone in the city hours upon hours. I handed him off to my mom, and gave her a list of instructions. I kept repeating, “Please be careful. Don’t lose him,” over and over again to her. As I walked away, I looked back several times to wave goodbye to Sawyer. My friend’s mother leaned over to my mother and asked, “How will she ever leave a child?”
I don’t know, Mrs. C. I just don’t know.
Back to my current day drama. It turns out Reagan had a blast. After her lesson was over and the swim instructor released the children, she took quick steps back to the bleachers and threw her soaking wet body onto me. Her skin felt like ice. I wrapped her in my old, faded Beauty and the Beast beach towel I used when I was a kid. Because I’m super-cool and insisted on keeping a hundred year old beach towel. Through her shivering, purple lips she asked me if she was coming back tomorrow.
When I told her lessons were only on Saturdays, the excitement vanished from her eyes. She glanced down at the floor and got really quiet. As I helped her change out of her bathing suit, she kept asking if I was sure she didn’t have swimming lessons the following day. Then she asked me if it was warm enough to fill our backyard baby pool. Clearly, she recovered from her initial fear and was more than ready to hop back into a pool. Or maybe she was always ready, and I just assumed she wasn’t because I’m not ready.
I don’t know how to let go. Forget about the pool, what about a full day of school? How can you be sure your child is safe and sound? Should I call the school every morning to make sure she’s made it there safely? I wonder if any other parents do that. Surely, they must. And soon enough she’ll be asking me to drop her at the mall to meet up with her friends (kids still go to the mall to escape their overbearing parents, right?). I’m hoping that by the time she’s a teen, though, it will be socially acceptable to insert a GPS chip under your child’s skin so you can track them on their travels just as I do with Sawyer and Finn.
I know they say when you have a child, you wear your heart on your sleeve. But then they also say you should allow risky play, send them off on their own at just five years old to attend school all day long and stop helicoptering in general. It’s all contradictory, isn’t it?
I wish I could share a wonderful conclusion here; some sort of ah-ha moment I’ve had to help me get through the fear of letting my kids live free and exciting lives but I don’t have one. I know all of us parents are on the same boat, and some of you are calm and cool about watching your kids fly the nest. What the hell, people? Teach me how!