The Fifty-First Chart

August 10, 2012

By Ekta R. Garg

As a parent for only six years, I’m still trying to learn what hunches need follow up and what feelings I should ignore.  I don’t know exactly how much I’ve succeeded, but when I do it definitely feels good.

Six has taken swimming lessons off and on since she was a baby.  We started her in parent-tot lessons in the YMCA, and she’s had more time in the water than Four.  We enrolled Six in swimming lessons when we lived in Houston, but after her first session (that proceeded with great success) Six got promoted to an advanced class.  She had the same teacher, but they swam in a different pool and the other two students in that class had more experience than she did.  While they never splashed water on her or acted rowdy, the brother-sister duo had a lot of enthusiasm for their time in the water.

It freaked Six out, and that marked the end of her swimming career at that time.

When we moved to Salt Lake last summer we decided to give swimming lessons another shot, and this time we got Four involved.  We enrolled both in group lessons, and the girls seemed to fare better.  However, the rec center didn’t exactly show us the most promising track record of offering consistent lessons.  Despite the fact that these were two-week sessions with lessons every morning for four days each week, we ran into situations three or four times where classes would get cancelled at the last minute.  As in, we show up for class, stand around for about 10 minutes, ask where the heck the instructor is, and then get a lot of mystified looks from the other instructors.

For young children who thrive on routine and familiarity with their instructors, this certainly didn’t bode well.  But neither girl put her foot down and said, “No more swimming.”  It mystified me, but I certainly didn’t want to question something that could turn into a positive experience later.

As school wound down this May, I started inquiring about swimming lessons for the summer.  All of the places I looked were booked solid except for—you guessed it—the center where the girls took lessons last summer.  My husband really wants to get the girls involved in something physically active, so he encouraged me to sign the kids up there.  If worse came to worst, he reasoned, we would just get a refund (like we did last year) and find something else.

We went through two sessions this summer at that center, and because the supervisor of the swimming lessons had restructured the program the girls got every single lesson we paid for.  More importantly, they got the lessons on time.  And they had fun—with a few exceptions.

In her first session this summer, Four had a teacher who really took the time to—well, teach.  We’d enrolled Four in the beginner class for her age group, and the teacher understood Four’s reluctance with the water.  She focused on Four, encouraged her, and helped her to see how much fun swimming could be.  My husband and I sighed in relief together; maybe things would work out with this center this time after all.

When the second session began, the girls had new instructors.  Six found herself with an instructor from last summer; Four, repeating the beginner class, had a new teacher who decided he didn’t want to spend as much time trying to coax Four into the pool.  As a result my husband and I observed Four sitting on the side several times as her instructor took the other kids out for their lesson.

We began the discussion about private lessons.  I never thought I’d find myself in a position where I’d seriously consider lessons for anything that cost $20, $30, $40 or more per half-hour of instruction.  But knowing Four’s personality and her ability to embrace something wholeheartedly if she’s guided in the correct way, we knew the time had come to get into that discussion.

My husband suggested asking the Six’s instructor about teaching the girls individually.  The instructor was patient and skilled and seemed like she had the perfect balancing of pushing a child but also encouraging that child in a non-threatening way.  So at the end of the last lesson of the second group session, I went to the instructor and asked her what her schedule looked like for private lessons.  She quoted her prices and then told me to ask at the front desk of the rec center because she was sure they had her new schedule on file.

I checked with the front desk; the schedule didn’t exist in the binder there.

“She’s her own boss,” the lady there said.  “You’ll have to check with her about her availability because we can’t say when she’ll be teaching.”

So I turned right around and hunted the instructor down by the side of the pool.  She seemed mystified that the front desk wouldn’t have her schedule.

“Why don’t we do this?” she said brightly.  “Let me talk to M., and then you can call her tomorrow and we can set everything up then.”

I put M., the supervisor who had graciously given us the refund the previous summer for last-minute cancellations, on my radar.

The next day (a Friday,) I called M. and spoke to her.  She seemed helpful enough, although the mystery about the missing lesson schedule continued.  She promised to look into it and get back to me.

Now, when I tell someone I’m going to do a job for that person, I always try to get it off my desk as soon as possible.  At the very least I keep that person updated through email, phone, whatever so the person doesn’t feel like s/he has tossed the request into a black hole.  I realize, however, that not everyone operates the same way, so I didn’t think too much of it when I didn’t hear from M. throughout the weekend or on Monday.

On Tuesday I left her a friendly voicemail stating I was just following up on the conversation we’d had a few days earlier.  Nothing.

By Wednesday morning I started to get a little annoyed.  This time I decided to approach a different person with my request; in journalism school professors equip students with the skill of employing a variety of tactics for the desired result, and I’ve never hesitated to use this skill in my own life.

I called the front desk of the rec center and explained the problem.  The nice ambitious-sounding young woman who answered checked the binder again.

No lesson schedule.

She assured me, however, that she would check with M.

“I will personally get back to you,” she said with confidence.

I felt a small measure of relief, but not much.  I made sure to ask her name so that when I called back (and I had a strong hunch I would be calling back,) I would know exactly who to ask for.  I thanked her for her time too.

On Thursday afternoon with still no response, I decided I’d had it.  I called the rec center again and asked for the same girl.  The person who answered told me she wouldn’t be in for another 20 minutes.

I gave this girl the benefit of half the day, hoping against all odds she would call me.  When she didn’t get back to me by lunchtime, I struck again.

“Yeah, well, I checked with M. and she said she doesn’t have [the instructor’s] schedule yet.  And she’s her own boss, so we really can’t tell you when she’ll be having lessons.”

Sounds like the boss needs a new employee.

The girl on the phone assured me she’d put me in touch with M., and a few minutes later I heard the lovely sound of M.s’ voicemail.

I didn’t panic and I didn’t scream.  I left another nice message asking her to call me back with any information, and then I hung up and decided to find a different instructor.

My husband felt like we should keep the girls in group lessons and also sign them up for private lessons.  But by this time, having had a whole week to think it over (and no swim instructor to confirm my hunch,) I decided we needed to try something new: semi-private lessons, where Six and Four would share the lesson with the instructor.  The entire half-hour would belong to the kids and the instructor and no one else.

We discussed this briefly, but our discussion only confirmed what we’ve both observed about our children.  They’re best friends (never mind Four’s assertion from the other morning that, “We’re not friends, we’re sisters!”)  They rely on one another for everything, and as they get older Four has turned to her big sister more and more for help, guidance, advice, confirmation of facts—everything.  If someone familiar could encourage Four to get over her initial reluctance in the pool, we knew she would fly.

Six, on the other hand, has the persistence and endurance to succeed.  Like her younger sister, she has a stubborn streak that refuses to let her stop trying.  But she also has a key weakness that functions in the same capacity that Four’s reluctance does: until she sees herself succeeding at something, Six has a tendency to lose heart easily.  Her tears will flow at the drop of a hat, and she throws a tantrum because she doesn’t understand just why she can’t do something.

Her temperamental nature makes me wonder if she’ll get into something artistic later in life. Wonder where she gets that from. :>

Knowing looks from my husband notwithstanding, Six needs someone to encourage her through the early stages of anything new she tries.  And having her best friend—her sister—by her side seemed like the perfect solution.

I went online and found a new instructor who teaches at a different rec center.  This instructor answered my phone call on the second ring and even called back halfway through the call when her cell phone dropped it.  I explained the situation to her, and she sounded enthusiastic about what the girls could accomplish.

The proof for us, however, was in the pudding—or, I guess in this case, the chlorine.  This week we took Six and Four to their first two lessons with this instructor.  On Tuesday evening Four didn’t want to let go of the lip at the edge of the pool, but Six and the instructor worked together to coax her away a few times.

Four left the rec center that night slightly dubious about her experience.  But something must have computed in the right order, because on Wednesday night not only did she willingly let go of the edge of the pool but also she attempted a few quick brushes of the surface of the water with her face—something she would have kicked and screamed against in the previous facility had we forced her to try.

I’m glad, then, that we followed our hunch to put her in semi-private lessons with Six and that she, in turn, is feeling free to follow her own hunches on what she can and can’t do in the water.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that with the Olympics coming to a close this week, we’ve often looked at our children and wondered whether they might also accomplish great things.

Mother of an Olympic champion.  Has a nice ring to it.  But as of right now, I can only say it’s a hunch.

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