If you're a parent, you've probably heard the advice, "Choose your battles wisely," more times than you can count. And sure, it's good advice. You don't want to battle your kid on little stuff when there are bigger (and far more important) fish to fry. However, when the time comes it's sometimes pretty hard to distinguish between little stuff and seemingly little stuff with bigger implications. It may not seem like a big deal if your kid wrestles out of your grasp in a store, but if you don't make an issue of it there will it come back to haunt you in the parking lot? If you don't stop your toddler from still-age-appropriate food-throwing, will they have evidence to think it's OK when they're older? Long story short, there's a gray area there where it may not seem like a big deal at the time, but over time, the implications aren't good. So where and when do you actually draw the line?
Two years ago we bought a house with a pool. I never wanted a pool...ever. In fact, there were times I filtered my real estate search results to houses with no pools, and during our most recent hunt two years ago, I loosened that to no in-ground pools, just because they're harder to take out. At least if we found the perfect house with an above ground pool, all it would take is some time, a Craigslist posting, and some grass seed to get rid of it if need be. Well...we found the perfect house....and it had an above ground pool. Ugh. We've spent the last two summers battling it--from a stubborn algae problem one summer to constant debris on the bottom last year, from sprung leaks and stolen covers to opening and closing issues--and it's been a tough ride. But on those days when it's 90 degrees out and the pool is a perfect retreat after yard work, or when I take a quick dip on a quiet evening after my workout, it's absolute bliss. Those few moments are not necessarily good enough reasons to keep the pool and spend what we spend to keep it running. However, I'm hesitant to take it down because I worry that one day in about five years, Jacob will be like, "We had a pool and you got rid of it?!" Because what all-American kid wouldn't want to spend every waking moment during the summer swimming? Well...ours, apparently.
Right now Jacob would probably be thrilled if we took down the pool and turned our backyard into a tiny Field of Dreams. Put second base where the pool filter sits now and we'd have a happy kid. Of course, if the pool keeps pulling stunts like it did overnight (filter was on when some tubing split, sending six inches of pool water spraying into our backyard), it might not be there for long anyway. But regardless...suffice it to say that Jacob has no use for our pool. In fact, last summer I don't think he went in it at all. He's been in pools here and there since he was born, and while he wasn't particularly adventurous, he always seemed to like it. Once he got too big for the little inflatable baby boats but not quite skilled enough to keep his head up with just floaties on, I honestly wasn't quite sure what to do with him. So, last summer, when he was more interested in playing sports than getting in the pool, I decided the battle to get him into his suit just wasn't worth it and let it go. Now, for many reasons, I'm kicking myself.
Craig's parents have a pool, too--a nice, warm, heated pool--and Jacob's cousins spend a LOT of time in it. They're absolute fish! His cousin that just turned six doesn't need any floatation devices anymore, and even the almost-five-year-old is fearless, jumping in and playing around with a life vest on. And then there's Jacob. Jacob is absolutely petrified of the water. Now that we own a pool I'm kicking myself that we never did the Water Babies swim class when he was a baby, and I'm not even sure I know where to begin on teaching him to swim. Why? Well, because he will not willingly go in the water.
We'd been telling him for a while that he needed to start learning to go into the pool, and yesterday we were determined to make it happen, if only to get him in, show him it was fine, and be done. It took a good TWO HOURS of arguing and physically forcing him into his suit and into the water. He was so tired from the first round of fighting us that he fell asleep in the middle of the battle! The second he woke up and realized he was in his swim trunks (that we put on him after he fell asleep, since he fell asleep buck naked!), he immediately started whining and insisted again that he wasn't going in. Oh, and in the midst of this, Craig and I were having a battle of our own about how far to push things and possible punishments for him if he didn't go in. It got that bad.
Now, here's the thing. Why should he have to go in the pool? Obviously this was getting to be borderline traumatizing for him. He had a fear--an irrational, unfounded one, as he's never had a memorably bad pool experience--and it was obvious it was bothering him. Perhaps it wasn't wise to push the issue. BUT...there were two things nagging at me telling me we had to do this. First, if he has a tantrum this big and eventually gets his way, he'll only learn that tantrums work. Second, he's not going to be able to go through life without having to confront the pool issue. Particularly since there's one in his backyard, and his grandparents have one that his cousins spend a ton of time in. As he grows up, he'll have friends that know he has a pool and will want to come over and expect to swim. He will be invited to pool parties. He will probably have to swim in gym class. And in the event that he's ever around any body of water, we want him to be able to swim, just in case. He can't avoid it forever, and it seemed to me that if we let him off the hook this time, it would continue to be a worry, the worry would build, and the next time we pushed it, it would be even worse. We just wanted to get him in, let him see he was fine, and hopefully build on that for next time.
After his impromptu nap, I continued to talk to him as calmly as possible, explaining to him that I would hold on to him the whole time, that he wouldn't get splashed, and that he'd be fine. Somehow I got sunscreen on him, and then had to drag him outside, kicking and screaming the whole way. He continued right up until we were in the water, at which point he realized it was funny to splash his hands in the water and then eased up a bit. He still wouldn't let go of me for anything, which was fine with me because I didn't mind the bonus hugs. By the end I did manage to get him on his belly and kicking a bit, so hopefully he's up for more of that once we get our pool back up and running.
I made sure to praise him a lot for his bravery, and I'm hoping the experience at least got him past his initial fear. I don't know if that will translate to him actually wanting to go into the pool (he's insisting he'll just go in that pool, not ours), but at least now he's got evidence that we're not going to let him off the hook easily when he doesn't want to go in. I'm planning to get him a highly rated flotation device, a cool new bathing suit, and a pool basketball hoop, so hopefully those things will help.
To be fair, I wasn't much of a water person back when I was a kid, and I'm still not a fan of getting water in my face unexpectedly. I spent much of my childhood sitting on the ladder of my grandma's pool, and only got more comfortable in the water when our neighbors had a pool (a COLD pool) and I spent a lot of time there. I can go under okay but I still have to plug my nose and can't open my eyes. So I know where he's coming from, and he apparently comes by it honestly. But I'm not asking him to be a scuba diver. I just want him to be able to swim safely and have fun with other people when the opportunity arises.
Not gonna lie, though...it was a pretty horrible experience to get him in there. After it was all over, there was a pretty good sense of satisfaction on both sides. I'm just praying we don't have to do that again. But if I do, I will. There's no turning back now.