From the beginning, Ryan has been a little late for a lot of the big milestones.
He missed his due date by 10 full days. He didn’t want to hold his own bottle for The Longest Time. He crawled late. His words came slowly. He took his tentative first steps around a year old, but dude didn’t legit walk across a room on his own until he was a solid 15 months old.
It has always been my instinct to not push him. I could tell very early on that he was the sort of kid that didn’t do something until he was confident he could do it just right. When he was ready for the next level, he made it clear.
The one thing I pushed – and have always slightly regretted – was swim lessons.
As a new mom in Arizona, where child drownings are a weekly news item during the hot months, I felt pressure to teach Ryan early on how to handle himself in water. I hoped he would be one of those babies who naturally loved the water, one of those kids who swam and splashed with an ease and confidence I never mastered myself.
Knowing he is a naturally cautious kid, I waited until he was nineteen months old (practically ancient to begin swim instruction in Arizona) before signing him up for weekly lessons.
Every Saturday morning, he screamed his way through the 30-minute swim lesson.
“Don’t worry,” the swim parent veterans told me. “Mine screamed for the first six weeks; then all of a sudden, he loved it!!”
I so wanted that moment where it all clicked. I didn’t want to end the lessons on a bad note. I wanted him to feel the pride that rushes through you when you conquer a fear, when you go from this-is-too-hard to holy-crap-I-can-do-this.
So I ignored the intuitive voice inside of me that was screaming “HE’S NOT READY!” We powered through and kept taking him week after week.
For four LONG months.
Eventually, enough was enough. We had to throw in the (wet) towel and pray we hadn’t done permanent damage, that we hadn’t actually created a lifelong fear of water.
Since those lessons, I have been extra sensitive to his aversion to large water. I was not going to push him into it ever again. Over the next two years, Ryan went into a swimming pool exactly one time (it took 45 minutes and one very patient uncle to accomplish this), and he cautiously splashed his feet at the very edge of the ocean on one beach vacation (after spending the first five days of said vacation working up the courage to do so).
I sat back and waited. He would let me know when he was ready.
Last week, he became ready.
We went on a weeklong trip to Disney World (!!!!!) with my entire family (!!!!!), and stayed at a resort that happens to have a pretty sweet pool.
When we walked into the resort on the first day and passed by the pool, Ryan’s face lit up. He stopped in his tracks, grabbed my hand, looked deep into my eyes and pleaded, “Mommy, can I go in the pool?? PLEASE. I want to go in the pool!”
I blinked at him for a second before I managed to mumble something about maybe tomorrow. Surely he wasn’t actually ready, and I wasn’t about to start such an awesome trip on a potentially disastrous note.
On Day 2 of our trip, after several hours at the Magic Kingdom and a whole lot of “Can we go back to the hotel and swim in the pool? PLEASE?!“, we shrugged our shoulders, pulled on his swim trunks and followed his lead.
Kid led us straight into the pool.
After about five minutes, dude was jumping off the side.
It’s a reminder to myself that my intuition is among the very best of my parenting tools. Ryan doesn’t need me to be the person who nudges him before he’s ready because I think he should be doing this or it’s time for him to do that.
He needs me to be the person who encourages him to try new things but backs off when I see that it’s too much for him. He needs me to know that he’ll always get there eventually, in his own way and in his own time.