Teaching Grandma’s Little Fish to Swim

The water shimmered in the summer sun as we ran toward the lake.  Though terrified of going in on my own, I loved gazing at the reflections of the blue sky and puffy white clouds held in its depths.  At four years old, my hair was still in pigtails, and I was wearing my bright pink ruffle-skirted bathing suit.  As I timidly approached the water’s edge, my grandmother swooped me up and slowly waded into the lake.

Lapping against my grandmother’s legs, the water splashed my feet and tickled my toes.  My brother and sister were not far from us, and cool drops sprinkled my face as they threw themselves into the water competing to see who could make the biggest splash.  My grandma was waist deep before she started lowering me into the water.  Once I figured out what she doing, I threw my arms around her waist, clung to her for dear life and cried for mercy.

Perhaps this is a good time to mention that for as long as I can recall, my biggest fear has been drowning.  Even as an adult, a trickle of panic takes hold of me whenever I choke on my drink or get water up my nose.  As a child, my symptoms were much worse.  I refused to dip my head under the water at bath time so my parents could wash my hair.  If they tried turning the shower on to rinse me off after my bath, I screamed bloody murder, much the way I was that afternoon at the lake.

My grandmother murmured that she had hold of me and I would be alright.  With one arm supporting my chest and the other supporting my legs, she told me to kick my legs and paddle with my arms.  I can’t say for sure what it was in her voice that calmed me, but once I realized she wasn’t going to let go, I began plunking my legs up and down delighting in the water that rained down all around us.  My grandmother encouraged me to paddle with my arms, and as I did, she tentatively let me go.  For a second before I realized what was going on and began thrashing about in a panic, I swam.

While I didn’t fully conquer my fear of swimming that afternoon, my grandmother set in motion the ability to face my fears rather than letting them get the best of me.  After this experience, I was more willing to learn how to swim, and once I did, my parents often referred to me as a fish.  I grew to adore swimming so much that I’d spend an entire afternoon splashing around in the water.  I’m grateful for this lesson because now that I’m all grown up, I’m faced with much larger, more significant fears.  Whenever these fears take of hold of me today, I think back to my grandmother’s soothing words and know that “everything is going to be alright.”

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