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An Open Letter to the Lady Offering Unsolicited Parenting Advice at the Public Pool
Okay, I realize that from an outside point of view, it must have seemed cruel of me to order my son to jump into the water as he stood crying on the edge of the pool for long minutes on end. It was admittedly not my finest parenting moment. However, I think if you knew some of the context and the events leading up to that moment you may have a little better understanding of why I was doing that.
First of all, contrary to what you (and, if your assertion is correct, half the parents in the pool) think, my son loves the water. We have a season pass to the pool, and every time he comes he has a great time. He also enjoys his morning swimming lesson. He floats, he goes underwater, he kicks with a kickboard. In fact, he tries pretty much everything appropriate to his age. Everything, that is, except jump into the water by himself.
For some reason he has convinced himself this summer that he can’t jump into even waist-deep water without help. He will do it if someone is holding his hand, and he will do it if someone pushes him (in fact, in the last several days he has frequently ASKED me to push him in the water). But for whatever reason he thinks he just can’t do it by himself, despite the fact that he did it last summer when he was four. It was the same thing with his bicycle and with the monkey bars in the backyard. If he goes a long time without doing something, he forgets that he can do it and has no confidence in himself.
For five days we have struggled with this, both during his swimming lessons and afterward at the public pool. But the more that we encourage him and the more we help him (by holding his hand or giving him a push) the more firm he is in the belief that he just can’t jump in the pool by himself. I finally realized that the only way for him to learn that he can do it is to do it totally independently, with no help from me, which brings us up to this afternoon. I was determined that today he would jump in the water.
I’m sorry if our little family drama disrupted your swimming experience, but I had had enough. He can jump in. I know he can jump in. The only problem is that he doesn’t think he can. Or didn’t, I should say, for as you saw, he finally jumped in by himself. I was really glad you got to see that. I’m also glad that you got to see him proceed to jump into the water twenty times after that, laughing and beaming with joy, because that’s exactly what I knew would happen.
I also wish you had been there when I told him it was time to leave the pool, and he whined, “I just want to keep jumping in the water.” And then when we were walking out, and he said to me, “I’m so proud of myself that I jumped in the water.” If you had heard him say that, then I think you would understand why I did what I did.
I must admit now that I told you a small lie when you confronted me. When you said we were making a scene and all the parents were staring at us, I told you that I don’t care what people think of me. In truth, I do care what other people think of me. I just care more about my son having confidence in himself and having the courage to do things that at first he’s afraid to.
I love it. It seems that we are so disturbed, as a society, by crying children, yet every parent knows that this is a very normal thing that happens all the time.
Yeah. Some time I’ll tell you about the store clerk that told us we were traumatizing our child. I guess I used to be a little judgy before I had kids too.
I found your site searching for articles on McCarthy. Read your entry on “The Road” then came here and read this one. This is great. Really well written and, because it’s true, honest. Do you ever send your writing out to journals? I could see this getting published.