BECOMING BETTER

Jean Croker Petke


Swim Lessons

Swim Lessons

Whenever I’m with The Boy (4-year-old grandson) I learn stuff. He helps me see things from his young perspective. He notices things that never catch my eye.

He’s been taking swimming lessons for the last few weeks. He took lessons last summer as well. The big issue is learning to put his face in the water — and to blow bubble while doing so. He couldn’t really do it last year but he was only three then. Now he’s older and bigger. He often reminds us of such growth.

By the last day of class this year, he willingly put his face in the water and usually remembered to blow bubbles. A few times of choking on pool water convinced him of the necessity of bubble blowing.

His mother and I joined him in the pool for play time after his lesson. We played catch with his favorite green ball. While that was fun, he was most interested in showing us how he could put his face in the water and swim a few feet to the pool’s edge. He did it over and over and over. Then his mother held the ball about a foot under the water, just to see if he could keep his face in the water long enough to grab it. And he did, much to his surprise. Again, he did it over and over and over. Our encouragement of “Go deep, young man, go deep,” helped him remember to keep his head down.

Here’s the lesson for all of us. It takes time to learn a new skill. A teacher or coach is helpful. But we have to practice on our own til we finally get it. We have to feel that success over and over until we don’t have to think about every detail of the skill.

The Boy was challenged to remember to close his mouth or blow bubbles every time he put his face in the water. Once that became automatic, he could think about moving his arms and legs and trying to go deeper in the water. Avoiding drowning by inhaling water is critical. Only then can you work on the remaining details of swimming.

And so it is with things we adults want to learn:

  • to write a novel, we first have to learn to write sentences, then paragraphs before we learn to craft a story.
  • to play a sonata, we first have to learn to read music, learn the notes of the keyboard, chords, scales and arpeggios, before we can use all these smaller skills to play real music.
  • to learn stitchery, we first learn about the thread, the canvas or fabric, a variety of stitches, before we can produce a finished piece.

Fill in your own details. The process is the same, no matter what we’re trying to learn.

  • Start with the basics, the tiny first steps.
  • Allow the steps to connect and build on each other.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Slow practice is best.
  • Be patient with yourself. Learning takes time.

Keep working. You will get there.

Until next Tuesday . . .