Belated Maternal Musings

My three year old child is regressing in swim class, and it has triggered in me a cascade of anxieties.

Let me state for the record that I know this is insane.  I staunchly believe the New Maternalism of my generation barely masks the New Sexism. Women, mothers, are constantly told–by each other, by political, professional, economic and culture-producing systems in which we are embedded–that we are not enough. Between the cultural contempt our society has for mothers, the resulting internalized self-hatred mothers have for themselves, and the basics of what our biology inspires in us, no wonder we go nuts.

So fine.  I am all about being the Good Enough Mother.  My faults and failings–the ways my personality comes into conflict with my child and his needs–will inevitably impact him.  My husband and I set up a system that works for us; and we try not to actively fuck the kid up.  Past that, I refuse to worry about it.

Or at least I try.  But clearly, the monster roars within me and giving myself permission to be good enough remains a constant battle.

Ziv has been in swim classes for over a year. We started him because he loved the water. Wanted nothing more than to be in the water—really be there, wholly abandoned.  He didn’t want to wear a floatie, didn’t even want to be held—just wanted to feel the water over his whole body. His lack of fear and Southern California’s preponderance of pools drove us to the Lenny K Swim Academy where many of our anxious, professional cohort have successfully sent their children. Initially, he loved it. But in the past four months, he started balking at back floats (the gatekeeper skill of swimming) and now he gets scared about things he used to do by himself and joyfully—leaping in the water, diving in from platform to platform.

His teacher said that this arrival of fear was a standard part of the process. (Side note: His imagination has come online strongly in the past few months, and it’s fascinating to witness that with the imagination comes fear.)

But we’ve seemed to have stalled out hard.  Recently, a new YMCA opened in our neighborhood, and because classes are cheaper and closer we’re moving him over. Saturday, we took him to the Y to get assessed for his appropriate level.

He grabs the swim instructor when she pulls him into the water. He struggles against her when she tries to get him to back float. He won’t jump in. My stomach clutches, my breath comes short.  I can hardly watch. Our child is assessed at the beginner level of swimmer—a Pike. Not an Eel or a Ray. A Pike. After over a year and hundreds of dollars, it’s like he never took a swim class.

I feel actual shame, like this is my fault–the weeks we missed class, or moved to his current teacher who was a more convenient time slot but babies him, our own inconsistency, my lack of willingness to end my workday early once a week to drive halfway across town in one direction to pick him up then go halfway across down the other direction during rush hour so he could go twice a week.

I feel pain—my joyous water baby, my little fish, has become a different person. When we go to the pool later, and I try to force him to jump in without holding on to me, to push off from seated on the edge of the pool, he actually shakes in fear; when I roll him onto his back, he stubbornly clings to me for dear life.

It seems like a regression of such a startling magnitude. Does he need a break? Am I pushing too hard?

I go on the internet. A website states that when kids hit a moment of plateau or regression in swimming, it signals a break in confidence. Oh, God, where do I even start with that? What have I done to bring on my three year old’s first crisis of confidence?

I’m too tough on him. We were in a pool the weekend before and I made him to push off to me by himself and he didn’t want to but I wouldn’t fold…

…He’s sensed my anxiety around his swim regression, he’s heard me talk to his teachers about my concerns. I shouldn’t talk about him in front of him…

Ziv has always had a charisma that makes people around him respond (he’s happy, preternaturally verbal and good-looking in a way only mixed-race babies can be)…Is it because he gets so much love from everyone, that one challenge undoes him? Does everyone coddle him to much? Do I?…

…No, I don’t coddle him enough. I am profligate with kisses and hugs but more reserved with compliments. They don’t work anyway–stung by that Internet site’s “break in confidence”, I told him he did great after his final Lenny K class. No I didn’t, he responds flatly, before begging me to pick him up.

I protect my space too much…I was always a bit of a loner, and that gets tested by a husband and kid. Even now, as I’m writing this, I just want to be writing this. But Ziv and Ben want to go to the pool, and I guess I have to go with them...How awful–for Mother’s Day, I just want to be left alone…

Oh, God, he knows it…Lately, Ziv has really needed me, wanted me.  He’s passionate, he’s Oedipus.  He wants to hold my hand and hug me and touch me and be with me. When I do things he doesn’t like, he tells me to go away, and when I go away, he lets out an anguished howl.  Encouraging him to do things by himself because “you’re a big boy!” doesn’t work.  In fact, he pre-empts me by saying he’s a baby, a big-boy-baby–like he sees the end of it and wants one last hurrah.  I cuddle him and baby him when he asks for it, he’s mostly himself–but he still seems to need something that can’t be satisfied.

How strange it is, to be loved so entirely by this little creature who will someday be a grownup and resent me and see me as the root of all his neuroses. Being a mother is fucked up.  Just an utterly hopeless position.

Perhaps he’s too easy.  Some little kids have a hard time encountering the world.  Ziv never has.  At every stage, he’s gone with the program, generally cheerfully.  A thriver.  So much so that perhaps I can fool myself into thinking I’ve been doing a good job as a mom—a Good Enough one, at least.  One challenge emerges, and I fold into an echo chamber of self-abnegation and inadequacy.

I know Ziv’s “swim regression” is a phase.  In a year, I’ll be laughing at myself.  I’m laughing at myself now.  I still wanted to write this down.  Not because it’s a big deal, but because it is a window into my own mother’s madness, it’s a window into my own future, when my child’s crises of confidence speak danger, when more things are at stake.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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