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I'm the mom who gives up and gives in when their kid is
miserable. Historically, I have been very sensitive when it comes to my
9-year-old daughter, Aria. She doesn't respond to being pushed or dropped into
things she is not "into."
When she was around 4, I signed her up for tee-ball.
She didn't want to do tee-ball. But all the other moms were doing it. I just
figured, Oh, this is what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to sign my kid up for tee-ball. And she will just do it. And like it. And I'll bring
snacks and post photos on Instagram of my kid in a cute uniform.
That didn't happen. Instead she complained and cried that she had no
interest in tee-ball. I did all the usual "but it'll be so fun!" bull, only to be met
with "not for me."
The weekend before it started, all the neighborhood teams
were to gather in Pan Pacific Park for team photos, dressed in their team uniforms
($40). She refused to put it on. I dragged her to the park, kicking and
screaming, and wondered what was wrong with my child. My husband at the time,
Aria's stepfather, was of the "drag her, too bad, she doesn't get a
choice, don't let her 'rule' you" old school of thinking. This was not sitting well
with me either. (We're divorced now.) I knew in that moment, if she's not into something, it's not happening.
So there we were in the park, with hundreds of kids, and
Aria in a dress, her sweaty head burrowed into me, full-on panicking while I'm trying to "motivate" her.
My husband looked at me like there was something wrong with me. What had I done wrong to spawn such a non-team player? It was awful.
We all went home. There would be no team photo or team for that matter—only
$150 in the pockets of the tee-ball league because we dropped out.
When Aria gets upset, I usually go numb and get very tight. I just can't seem to handle the depth of it. But there was something different happening here.
This happened over and over. We tried swim class, gymnastics
and basketball. Maybe she just doesn't like sports! But the
same thing also happened with dance and piano. I can't tell you how much money I
have lost on lessons canceled, uniforms and outfits that went straight to the
I blamed myself until I theorized: "Aria is her own person, and we need to let her tell us what
works for her. Even if it's, well, nothing."
But inside I have always boiled over this. Where do I take
over? When do I step in and take the wheel? I want her to be exposed to
everything before she decides she isn't into something. I want her to make
informed decisions based on experience, not fear.
We were looking at after-school extracurriculars and I said
I was signing her up for hip-hop. This brought on "A Women Under The Influence"
hysteria. OK, fine, musical theater is on Wednesdays—it's a production of "The
Wizard of Oz"! Nope, not doing it. She came up with several reasons why: "I get overwhelmed with homework. It's just more stuff for
me to remember when I am already overwhelmed by school."
I said, "Fine. But you are doing something physical. You
love to swim. So, swim lessons, it is."
Until it came time for her swim test at swim school.
Here's some important background info first: Aria is almost 10. She doesn't ride a bike, dance or do cartwheels. Because she says, "I don't want to." And while she is very comfortable in a pool, and can play for hours very safely, she doesn't "swim." She dog paddles and moves underwater from one end of the pool to the other. I thought she could swim, even though her dad (my ex) is the one who takes her to the pool. She has told me for years that her dad was teaching her to swim until a family member told me they saw her in a pool, "Hey, Aria needs swim lessons. She can't swim a stroke."
So we went to book the 15 minutes evaluation with a "really
nice girl teacher" (as per Aria's request) and Aria needed us to book it two weeks into the future to get
"mentally prepared" for it. "OK," I said.
The day of, she was sick in the car going to school. She informed
me that she was not getting in the water
later on. Nope. Sorry. Not happening. I said, "It's
only 15 minutes!" She said even if she took the test, she was not taking lessons.
Then she started panicking, "I need to explain why, just listen to me, please … " Her explanations weren't sufficent. "I just like to flop around. I'll never want to do strokes."
I picked her up from school, bathing suit in tow
and drove to the test.
Things quickly turned to shit in the car ride. None of the bathing suits
I had were going to fit. All were too small. Then she got a bloody nose. Gasping. Tears. And so on. We arrived and she grew increasingly disturbed as I signed her in.
We went to the bathroom to change. Now she really let it all
out, crying so hard that she started to vomit, literally choking up and gasping
for air, red eyes pouring hot rivers. It was intense. I had no visual or
emotional reference for it. When Aria gets upset, I usually go numb and get
very tight. I just can't seem to handle the depth of it. But there was something
different happening here.
This was full-blown anxiety—nothing
to do with reality. I addressed all her fears, about the deep end and feeling insecure about her swimming, very logically. But this had nothing to do with logic.
I knew that, somehow, I had to help her get to the other side. I had to be strong for her in a way that I have never been.
Something in me said that it was time to step in and take over. In
the past, I would have said, "OK, OK, if you are this upset, then no way—it's not right for you." But today was different. Instead I said, "I am not leaving here
until you do this." Very cut and dry. "There is no option here. I'll
wait until you have your bathing suit on. I have all day."
And that was that. She hid behind the shower curtain, still
gagging, to change into her suit. She didn't want me to look at her because she
was so mad at me. I knew that, somehow, I had to help her get to the other side.
I had to be strong for her in a way that I have never been. This was for the both of us. I was as scared as she was to go through with it. It was awful to watch
my daughter really gagging from fear, and not turn around and go home, back
into our comfort zone, back to safety with no challenge, no change and no growth.
But I didn't.
She gathered herself, because I gave her no choice. She met the teacher and I told her that Aria won't go in the deep end (where there are sharks, whales and tsunamis). The teacher said no problem, they never do for this test. Aria got in the water. Calm. Eyes steadied on me to make sure I was not on my phone (her only request).
Fifteen minutes later, Aria was done. All she had to do was show the teacher that she could float on her back. That was that. She did it.
Here's the thing. Aria was fine during the test, and even better afterwards. She was proud of herself. The fear was all that was in her way. She felt accomplished. This is what I wanted her to experience, a sense of moving through and past something challenging. That feeling when you take a risk, a leap, a scary step.
And the same went for me. I had to jump in and do my job and take the scary step to shove us out of complacency and comfort. And it worked. We signed up for weekly sessions and went home, hopped on Amazon and bought a shitload of new suits.