Facing Off With Fear

Fear sucks the life out of any situation and is worthless to keep around you.  Fear debilitates you and limits your effectiveness in any situation.  Fear is not the same as being wise and cautious.  Fear is the thing that makes you want to curl up in a ball in the corner and go into emotional lock-down, where as being wise and cautious emboldens you to act smarter and make different choices.  Fear keeps you from making any choice at all.

I often mix up the two, especially when it comes to my kids.

I’m not sure if any of you ever had any weird ‘mind-movies’ that played during post-partum.  After my son was born, it was like I was dreaming while awake, or perhaps I was just over-tired and simply sleeping while sitting up with my eyes open.  During the first few weeks of my son’s life, one scary scene kept playing over and over in my mind.  In this false reality, I would see myself walking on a dock by a lake, holding my new baby boy. We’d get up near the edge and he would slip from my hands into the water.  It FREAKED me out.

When we were invited on a boat ride around a lake when my son was 6 months old, this mind-movie was not far from my thoughts.  Was it a warning?  He was a bit wiggly now, what if….

When we arrived, I was sure to get his little baby life jacket on him as soon as we got out of the car.  I was so nervous and my breathing was fast and shallow.  I had sweaty palms and was probably snapping at my husband. 

That day, everything ended up being just fine and there were no dramatic baby-drops or water rescues, and I was relieved that my fear of putting my baby near any large body of water was indeed conquerable.  My fearful mind-movies were NOT a vision of my life to come nor were they serving any purpose in my life at all except freaking me out and causing me to live under a big cloud of ‘what if?’  There’s enough junk in this life that plagues us.  Do we really need to add to it with a scary old ‘what if?’ worry cloud.  No thanks.

But today is a day that has both my husband and I feeling a bit anxious.  Our baby boy is now a big 7 year old and he’s experiencing his first summer camp.  Today features a field trip to the local swimming pool.

Let’s just say, my son is NOT a strong swimmer. He’s only recently been able to put his head underwater in the bathtub on his own while our younger daughter would still rather sit on the steps and watch all the other kids splash and play instead of risk getting water in her face.

Yep.  We’ve heard about those things called “Swimming Lessons” and have even enrolled our kids in some lessons when they were 2 and 4 years old.  But they didn’t stick (or maybe 2 months of lessons just weren’t enough for our kids) and we are still stuck with the anxious feelings and worrisome nights where we think, “What if something happens?  What if there are just too many kids to keep an eye on?”

Adding to our worries are the memories of a scary situation that happened a few summers back.

When our son was 4, we went to a big family potluck.  It was summer time, there were lots of kids running around and playing and there was a beautiful built in pool. My kids begged to go in and swim and I agreed, even though my husband had been delayed at work and I was out numbered.

I was holding my toddler while my older son splashed around in the shallow end.  He may have had water wings on, since they didn’t really make those foam-floatable swim shirts yet.  I don’t really remember.  Things were fine.  Later on, I got out of the pool with the girl and my son stayed in to play.  There were other kids there who were only two and they could swim like little fish!  It was amazing to watch them go underwater, swim the length of the pool, do back flips.  Ok, no back flips, but certainly, they knew what they were doing!

Some other parents were in the pool with the my son (who had ditched the floaties) and the other children when I happened to look and see my son standing underwater, just 6 inches from the surface, looking up with wide eyes.  His arms were reaching and paddling inefficiently and I yelled at my husband to grab him.  My husband, who had just arrived from work, bounded in the water, fully clothed, socks, shoes and all and yanked our son up and out of the water.  Our little boy sputtered and coughed and was very scared.  He had been hopping in the pool on his tip toes, but his hops took him down the pool’s slope and he ended up in water that was over his head. 

There were adults within an arm’s reach of him, but they were playing with their own kids and had assumed that since my son was the oldest one there, he could manage.  If those other little kids were such great swimmers, surely the he would be fine, right?

We were very lucky that day that my husband was there to help our son.  But now our boy’s off to a swimming field trip where the kids will far outnumber the counselors and life guards.  It makes us feel pretty nervous.  Of course, the old fear I had when he was a baby is delightfully rearing its ugly head too.

Last night we reminded our son that we are working hard to get to send him to swimming lessons next month and to please, please, please stay in the shallow end of the pool. He agreed and seems to know that he’s not quite ready for the deep end.

When we talked to the camp about our son’s limitations, they assured us that they have to pass a swimming test with the life guard first, before they are allowed to come out of the kiddie pool.  This reassurance did help somewhat, but it’s hard not to remember that day just a few years ago when our son was struggling to breathe within an arm’s reach of one of our friends.

So today is a day where I’m working on reminding myself about what’s real in the situation versus what’s not. 

Can my son swim well?  Nope.

Does he know this? Yes.

Will he be allowed in the deep end where he can get hurt? No.

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