07/16/2012 12:18 pm ET | Updated Sep 15, 2012

Sometimes the Sidelines Are Best

Five years ago, my kids swam like stones. Stones both dense and unwieldy in nature. Stones destined for the bottoms of lakes, ponds and pools. And yet, there was an uncanny barnacle-ness about them. Said buoyancy-challenged individuals were largely comfortable in swimming pools, so long as my husband and I stayed in the shallow end and refrained from making any sort of unreasonable requests -- like suggesting they loosen their death grip around our necks.

That said, I'm not entirely sure my brood even wanted to learn to swim. Life was perfectly perfect coiled around someone's torso, their smallish bodies submerged just enough to enjoy a taste of refreshing coolness, while a goodly portion remained above the surface, safe from the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad abyss that lurked below.

For a time, we allowed such idiocy to continue -- enabling our children and accepting the Island of Dependency we had inadvertently become. Of course, we fully expected a miracle to befall us. Somehow our charges would abandon their fears and start swimming like fish, plunging headlong into the murky depths. Through osmosis, our aquatic wonders would absorb every speck of knowledge and skill I had acquired as a lifeguard. They'd even be strangely adept at twirling whistles around their fingers and hauling greased watermelons across vast stretches of open water -- talents that smack of impressiveness but have yet to be deemed useful.

But it was not to be. Eventually we faced the truth: Hopes and dreams didn't make good swimmers. Lessons did. Lessons involving hard work, a boatload of skilled instructors from whom praise flowed endlessly and a vat of courage -- mostly of the parental variety. That said, it takes nerves of steel to idly watch one's beloved flounder as he or she goes about the important business of learning to swim. It's true: Kids panic. Kids swallow a disturbing amount of water. Kids stare at you from the deep end with horrified expressions.

Not surprisingly, parents twist and turn uncomfortably in their seats, wearing nervous smiles and attempting to chat casually. Yet deep inside -- awash with guilt and filled with doubt -- they harbor unadulterated torment. Or maybe that was just me, squirming in my chair in a futile attempt to silence the voices in my head that relentlessly screamed, "Your child is DROWNING and all you can do is swat flies and admire your tanned toes?! What kind of mother are you?!" Needless to say, I was beside myself with the idea of being on the sidelines.

And yet, that was where I needed to be. The place where I was, in fact, most effective. I needed to have faith in the process. Faith in the instructors. Faith in my children's ability to succeed -- in spite of the dearth of achievement I had witnessed thus far. Lo and behold, they've since ditched the semblance of stones and barnacles, completely thrilled with their newfound ability to swim, "...even in the deep end, Mom!"

Yep. Sometimes the sidelines are best.

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Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel