The Mermaid Swims
I’ve written many times about how alluring water is to Pudding, how she finds peace pouring and bathing in the stuff. But the problem for my mermaid is safety. We have a pool, as do many of the homes here. The number of deaths of foreign service children by drowning used to far exceed those of the general population, and anti-climb fences have reduced those grim statistics in recent years, but for an impulsive child who doesn’t fear the water, and can move a chair to a different room and unlock doors, we can’t afford to take chances. Every time I looked out at the pool and the potential for danger, my breath was caught as I thought about the potential danger.
This had to be our project over the summer holiday. The problem is, I’m not the strongest of swimmers. My own techniques aren’t so great, and it took me a really long time to learn how to swim. I wasn’t going to be the best teacher. And Pudding, with her attention problems and sensorimotor challenges, isn’t the easiest of people to teach. Fortunately, I found a children’s swimming instructor nearby who is also a physiotherapist- a perfect match! Unfortunately our schedules only permitted four one-on-one sessions. Still, I hoped to pick up tips from her that we could use at home, now that it is hot enough to go swimming outdoors.
Pudding took to her new teacher instantly, but still had huge problems following her directions and resisting her impulses. We agreed the most important (and most difficult) task, was to tackle these challenges, by playing to her strengths. Pudding likes songs and has a great memory, so her teacher adapted rhymes like Humpty-Dumpty to promote safely getting into the water. By the end of the first lesson, she could doggy paddle a very short distance unaided, and was learning to wait until told to enter the pool. Okay, she wasn’t so good at that part.
On the second session, Pudding had no interest in repeating her efforts from the week before. Somebody had found her buoyancy, to our delight! She adored the feeling of floating on her back, but her vestibular issues kept her from leaning far enough back. This time her teacher used Pop Goes the Weasel to flip from her front to her back, and then back again. Things were starting to come together!
That same week we went on an overnight trip to a man-made beach resort/water-park called Valley of the Waves. Apparently half the country had the same idea. It was packed and crowded, so instead of relying on her developing water skills, I put Pudding back in her swim vest. By the time we were all getting swept off our feet by six foot waves, I was glad I made that call.
However, when we returned for her next lesson, she couldn’t find her buoyancy. The artificial support of the swim vest interfered with her ability to sense when she was floating. But then, when were we ever discouraged by taking a step back? (Don’t answer that one). We moved on to the challenge of submerging her head under water, a task we were able to reproduce every evening when she took a bath.
Wednesday was her last one-on-one lesson. We’ll move to a small group class with other children with disabilities from next week. She’ll also be going back to school next week, and I’m not sure how she’ll cope with extra distractions at the end of a busy day.
I knew it was time for me to take that leap off the diving board and continue working on things at home. That day, while Cubby was taking a nap, we went in our small pool at home. Just like with her teacher, we practiced all the components, using the same rhymes and rules for safety. She sat by the side of the pool until we sang the song together to enter. We played Finding Nemo with the poor old bath toy who no longer floats. I was more comfortable teaching her, as she was learning.
Then it happened: she swam, unaided, the width of our pool! She did it again, and again. We’ve been in that pool together every day since, and she grows stronger every time. She is a long way from using breaststroke or front crawl, but believe me when I say she has her own grace. She might have needed a little extra support, and I might have needed to learn how best to give it to her, but this is another huge thing crossed off that list of things she can’t do. A list that grows shorter every day.
The mermaid swims, which means I can breathe a little easier.