I sat at the dinner table, smiling at the red-rimmed, droopy eyes of my four-year-old twin girls. They were tired and grumpy--which meant it was a swim lesson day.
“How did swim lessons go?”
“Great. We got to dive down and pick up a red ring!”
“No, we didn’t. We dived over a hoola-hoop,” the other one countered.
“Yeah, we dived over a hoola-hoop.”
And on it went. One girl told one story, the other corrected and, eventually, the whole family got most of the story--though what actually happened that day and what happened in previous lessons was a bit hard to decipher.
Once the twins returned to their dinner, Mom took over. Before she said a word, everybody was smiling. We all knew what was coming.
You see, the twin’s teacher has a rule requiring them to stand quietly next to the wall while she is working with another child. This rule is for safety and it makes a lot of sense.
It lasted less than one class. The twins don’t do standing, nor do they do quiet. They are, however, great at “practicing loudly,” doing their best to bring the rest of the class down with them.
The teacher is no rookie. She knew trouble when she saw it, so on day two she instituted rule two--the twins had to be separated by at least two other classmates at all times.
This is a time-worn technique--and I applaud her for her quick wit.
Unfortunately, the twins were not deterred. Apparently, they don’t do separately. So, as soon as she turns her back, they bob over to the other and start practicing blowing bubbles, floating or front crawls--all of which are dangerous for four-year-olds who can’t swim, but think they can.
Inevitably, they get caught and are forced to sit shivering on the side of the wall next to whichever poor soul got drawn into their shenanigans.
My wife is not happy or proud. She’s exhausted--tired of instructing them how to behave on the way to the pool. Tired of chastising them for how they actually behaved on the way home.
Despite the power struggle, their teacher is doing an excellent job. The girls (and the rest of the class) are progressing rapidly and everybody’s having fun. (Well, mostly everybody.)
And, along the way, something more powerful is happening: my twins are learning that rules matter. They’re learning there are consequences for not following those rules. They’re trying to work around the rules and finding that the rules, which are for their safety, aren’t going to disappear.
It’s a powerful experience--one that teaches them how to safely navigate open water and life.
So, to all you swim instructors with challenging pupils, I applaud you and encourage you to continue. And, if you do continue, I wonder--do you have room for two more students?
Rodney J. Auth