Mane learned to swim two days ago. I was just beginning to wonder if it was ever going to happen. We have a membership at the YWCA. She loves to be in the water, loves to play and slide and jump. She loves her life jacket, too, though we only use it in lakes and hotel pools. We've kept it out of the Y pool intentionally to see if it would prompt her to try to swim. But the honest truth is, though she loves water, she's afraid of it. She has always hated to get her face wet, but the fear seems to go beyond that. She got very excited about swimming class and then panicked that they might just throw her in the deep water when she can't swim yet. She has never, ever heard anyone talk about doing that to teach someone to swim. The fear seemed to come from nowhere in particular, but it sent her into enough of a panic that our conversation about swimming lessons went from happy & excited to near tears in a matter of seconds, leaving my scratching my head and totally confused. I dropped it and hoped that someday she'd learn to swim...in her own time.
I'm getting better at learning to trust, to believe that when the right time arrives, she'll do whatever it is that she needs to do. After all, she learned to roll over, crawl, walk, talk, and read with very little assistance from me. It seems that my job has always been, and probably will always be, creating an environment conducive to learning and then stepping back to allow it to happen. She's always been sensitive to too much prompting and to performing upon request. This child has fierce boundaries, a strong sense of her own identity, and a deep need to be the initiator of her own actions. When I see it that way, I am grateful. She has strong internal motivation.
I was pondering Mane's birth recently, as her 5th birthday recently passed, and I'm also wrapping up a childbirth class for moms who are both due in early July. Mane was born at home in a big birthing tub in our dining room. My pregnancy and labor were relatively uneventful. I wasn't horribly sick. I was in pretty good shape. I ate well, swam a little, went to work, and finished my Master's degree. The labor lasted 10 hours from the time I got out of bed because I couldn't sleep any more to the time of her birth. I walked, showered, threw up a few times, and held on to the sides of the tub. My midwife arrived 2 hours before the birth. Mane's heart tones were great. But, after two hours of pushing, she was born limp and blue. We rubbed her and talk to her. Our midwife suctioned her mouth. The bag of waters never broke. So, we didn't know she had passed meconium until after she was born. She didn't open her eyes or even really seem to be with us until our midwife gave her a few breaths, at which point her eyes flew open, and we all laughed and cried. And, after 5 breaths, she breathed on her own. And then the cord finished pulsing. The time was intense, but not overwhelming. And it only really became scary to me in retrospect. It helped that our midwife was so calm.
When Mane was about 2 years old, she told me about her birth. She told me it was "dark in there" and she "had to sleep a lot." About the actual birth, I can never remember her exact words, but she told me about a bright light - consistent with the flashlight our midwife was using under the water. And she said something about being in trouble and needing help, which is consistent with the above story.
In a moment of insight, or perhaps just crazy mom-brain, I wondered aloud to Mango a few weeks ago, if Mane's love/fear relationship with water might have something to do with her birth. I mean, she told me very clearly that she remembers being in trouble and needing help. She'd never heard her own birth story at that point. She loves baths and always has. She was never the kind of baby to scream in the tub. She often bathed in the tub with me and still does sometimes. But, she has also had this somewhat irrational fear of water in her face, of water that's too deep, of getting in over her head.
Two days ago, she brought her swim goggles to the Y. She put them on & started dunking her face in the water (because Mango did it with her & they could look at each other under the water). She was nervous and would come up really quick. Then she started going under longer as she realized she could see my hands and feet and swimming suit under the water. She got interested in reading the YWCA letters at the bottom of the pool. Then she started picking up her feet and kicking & the next thing any of us knew, she was swimming across the pool under the water. Yesterday we went again & she switched from goggles that covered her eyes & nose to goggles that covered only her eyes. She also started swimming briefly above the water. I was in total shock, but it was like something finally broke through. She stood up in the water and shouted at the top of her little 5yr old lungs, "I CAN SWIM!!!!!!!!!!!!!" And then she threw herself back in the water & started paddling again. Her excitement was beyond any I've seen at any other developmental stage.
As some of you know, Mane was also diagnosed with a wheat allergy about a month ago now. She's been wheat/gluten-free for 4 weeks today. minus two very small accidental exposures to gluten. The gluten-free eating has enormously improved her ability to handle frustration and cope with transitions, enough that Vespera has also noticed and begged us not to put her back on gluten to test & see. I'm wondering now if clearing wheat/gluten out of her system gave her the mental clarity to break through whatever fear was keeping her back about the water.
It's all theory, of course, and there's no real way to find out what has been and is going on. I just wonder, though. It makes me think. It makes me consider the ways that birth and nutrition affect us in small but real ways, or perhaps even big and unusual ways. We'll never know. None of us can do our births over again, nor can we know what subtracting an allergen from our menus would have done at different points in time. I was reading a book called Passionate Marriage last night. It's by a Marriage & Family Therapist. One of the therapist's clients said to him that he only wished that he & his wife had gone through therapy sooner. He was lamenting the years that had been "lost." The therapist responded by asking what made the man think that he & his wife were capable of making their new changes at any earlier point in their history together. His point was that all the things that came together to make them who they were at that point contributed to the positive changes they were able to make in their relationship. I find this comforting. Who knows if the breakthrough Mane made at the pool could have happened any earlier in different circumstances. Everything in her life history up to this point came together to make swimming possible two days ago. We can't know any more or less than that.