About Me, Adventures

It’s Hard To Teach Bravery When You’re A Big Ole Chicken

It is no secret that swimming is not my favorite thing. As an adult I’ve never been fond of the idea of open water and avoid any sort of boating or open water swimming invitation when I can. I’ve been okay in swimming pools where I can see the bottom and know I can make it to the edge with minimal effort, because it’s not that I can’t swim…I’ve just never been great at it. I can swim underwater from one end of a small pool to the other end, but only because I can SEE and I know if I can’t make it, the edge isn’t far away.

Last year I learned a bit about “freestyle” swimming. Enough to survive a 400+m open-water swim for a sprint triathlon. But, like I tell many people, my normal fears and anxieties took a backseat on raceday for several reasons. 1) There are SO MANY kayaks and bouys and rescue boats around that you feel very safe and 2) The excitement/adrenaline helps a lot. But when I would go to open-water training sessions with minimal (if any) support? I’d be a wreck. It was terrifying. One time I burst into tears and let me tell you: It is really hard to swim while you’re crying.

SO! There’s my backstory. I’m better than before last summer, but no where near the kind of person who enjoys the water.

Well…we are right near the river here AND there are a few good-sized lakes within a short drive. So, a lot of people entertain themselves on the weekend with water sports or recreation. And this weekend Donnie’s cycling friends invited us to a party at a lake house. I was TERRIFIED.

Now, the kids are better swimmers at their age than I was. But they’re not strong swimmers yet. And, they’d never been in open water, so they were a bit nervous. I assured them I’d get in the water with them – even though I was terrified – mainly because I was more terrified of them drowning than of me drowning. We don’t have any life jackets but we brought two inflatable rings for them to play in. And when we got there? I felt like I was going to have a full-blown meltdown. The ONLY thing keeping me relatively calm was the fact that we were standing in front of all of Donnie’s triathlon/cycling buddies. I had to keep my shit together just to keep from humiliating him.

Sidenote: Another entry for another day? My body image issues and how they also DID NOT HELP MATTERS. I hate that I let my hatred of my own body ruin my fun around water.

SO! I “bravely” told the kids I’d get in the water with them to get them used to it. And luckily, there was one life jacket there that fit Wes perfectly. Nikki had to wear one a little big. So, we decided they could use the life jackets and the rings for a bit, until they got used to it. I jumped in the water first (ALMOST DIED, SO SCARED) and then let Donnie hand me the kids one at a time. Luckily, someone noticed I was struggling and pointed out that I could sit in a life jacket like a diaper and it would help me help the kids. I was so grateful for the tip and the help, I didn’t even feel embarrassed about not knowing that tidbit.

The kids got in and Wesley IMMEDIATELY realized he could float without the ring and he just wanted to play around without it. This was easier for me because the two rings were a struggle, but as I was keeping up with Nikki I kept fearing Wes would float out into the lake and get run over by a boat before we could get to him.


Basically I spent the 15 minutes in the water whispering/yelling to the kids: STAY NEAR ME! DON’T FLOAT AWAY! I was just worried we’d lose them forever. Because I am a big ole wuss.

There was some action with people pulling kids on tubes behind a Jet Ski. NOPE. I told the kids: NOPE. They didn’t really want to do that anyway, not quite comfortable in a lake for that, but still, I knew my anxieties could only take SO MUCH.

Wes decided he wanted a break (THANK GOD) and he and I went to play basketball while Donnie stayed with Nikki.

Now, here’s the thing if you’re a high-anxiety parent, having a super-relaxed one around is a perfect balance. Donnie stayed in the water with Nikki just long enough to make her feel comfortable, and then just got out. Just hung out with his friends on the dock and kept and eye on her. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW HE COULD DO THAT. He was so relaxed and just confident in the life jacket and the ring and her ability to swim a little bit. He didn’t worry about her drifting away or getting run over by a boat. He didn’t worry about her drowning. HE EVEN LET HER RIDE ON A JET SKI. Now, she was in front of a grownup who was holding her on AND she was obviously wearing a life jacket, but still, NEVER would I have done that. AND SHE HAD A BLAST.

So, when Wes decided it was time to get back in the water, after hearing Nikki’s adventures, I had to CHILL THE HELL OUT. And I did, a little, but I was miserable. I was basically easing in to giving the kids more freedoms. First? I didn’t get in with them. Which was a little easy since I did not want to be in there anyway. Second? It took me awhile to feel comfortable with them jumping off the docks with their rings, and even more without. And it was about an hour of me taking several giant chill pills before I could finally relax enough to even socialize the tiniest bit with Donnie’s friends.

It was a very hard day.

I don’t want my kids growing up with my anxieties, but it’s really hard NOT to inflict mine on them in those situations where my fears relate to their safety. But, we all took baby steps and they were patient with me, allowing me to get settled in after each baby step, before pushing for more freedom. Because they were scared too, so they weren’t wanting ALL of the freedoms in the world.

I’m glad we did it, even though it probably gave me 14 ulcers. I’m glad the kids had SO MUCH FUN. I wish I wasn’t such a ball of anxieties all the time. But, the fact that I brave this stuff periodically, even taking small steps, is a good thing. I don’t let it control my life 100%. There are certain things I have no desire to do, and that’s okay as long as I let myself do these small things periodically.



14 thoughts on “It’s Hard To Teach Bravery When You’re A Big Ole Chicken”

  1. Seriously brave. I know some people whose toddler drowned in their backyard pool, so I definitely get how paranoid you are about water. I’m a wreck whenever my water-loving toddler wants to go near it.

    But. Generally speaking, I am a very comfortable swimmer/boater/etc. I did a lot of swim lessons and swim club when I was younger, and took lessons all the way up to the pre-lifeguarding courses. I’ve also done a pleasurecraft operator course (boating, required here for any water vessel).

    So I’ve done drowning recovery drills. CPR. Know how a PFD works and is supposed to fit. Understand the rules of the water when out with boats around.

    And I have to say, as long as my toddler is wearing a properly-fitting PFD, I really don’t stress much about him in the water at all. Don’t mean I take my eye off him, but I know what “things going wrong” looks like, and how to help (god forbid) if the worst happens and he needs first aid before an ambulance arrives.

    Maybe taking some water safety courses (not necessarily swimming lessons), or even just getting a proper PFD fitting for your kids (or even yourself) will help? Knowledge is power, etc.

  2. Oh, honey. I can not imagine dealing with that much anxiety all the time. I’m glad you got past it yesterday.

  3. i read the post and then saw the pix and realized how you (at least for a short bit) pushed your fears for them away long enough to take the pix…which reminded me of our trip w/ the kids when they were like 2? and how when ariel fell in the water…your first instinct was to help her while mine was to grab the camera and capture the pix. 🙂 so you’ve come a long way, girl. 🙂


  4. I think water anxiety is its own thing. I swam on swim teams, worked as a lifeguard for years and taught swim lessons as a teenager – plus my husband swam competitively in college – but I STILL have MAJOR anxiety about my kids in water – even in the freakin’ bathtub – not to mention pools, ponds, lakes and oceans. I’m getting (a little) better as they get older – but man, it’s hard. And I LOVE water…but, with kids, I constantly have to push myself – very slowly. Sometimes friends and family give me a hard time about it, but ultimately it’s just an issue I’m (mostly) okay being a mess about. And I think we can teach bravery in other ways (plus I think you do that in a million other ways)! xo

  5. Hugs! I could have written this post. My oldest son (you know my boys have autism/deafness) kind of treads water really well and LOVES to get in the deep water. He’s FAST and I have great trouble keeping up with him! So I always try and get my husband to go out there with him while I take care of RJ in the shallow end. But switching places fast can be a trick when Chris gets his mind made up to go over there before I get Rog’s attention! I am a very slow, can float to survive but not much else – kind of swimmer — lol

  6. I just want to tell you what an awesome mom you are for doing this for your kids. My mother had/has lot of anxieties, which I’m realizing is why I missed out on a lot of cool experiences as a kid. And guess who has those same anxieties now?! Not only is pushing your boundaries like this good for your kids, it’s helping you too. More exposure (and like Jen suggested, more education) is a powerful thing.

  7. I could have written this post, except I would have finished this sentence “Now, here’s the thing if you’re a high-anxiety parent, having a super-relaxed one around is…” TOTALLY ANNOYING. But you’re right. Thank goodness one of us is levelheaded enough to know that our kids aren’t headed for certain death all day long. It’s too bad that person isn’t me, but maybe someday it will be.

  8. I can relate to that feeling. My son is fearless and the last thing I want to do is teach him to be afraid when he doesnt need to be. Like when he is riding his bike–he is so fast and waits to the last minute to stop. I try not to freak out and yell too much.

  9. I find all water events SO STRESSFUL!!! There are several child-dying scenarios that can be very relentless in creating themselves, then replaying themselves in my head, and water is #3. I won’t tell you number 1 and 2 in case you don’t have anxiety about those. 😀 Just yesterday, I couldn’t stop thinking about my #1 scenario and had to take a shower because I had sweat so much just sitting on the couch having a mini-panic attack about something that hasn’t (and very likely won’t) ever happen.

    I’m not sure where the line of reasonable and unreasonable fear is. I have let my kids get into and jump into lakes with those puddle jumper things, which aren’t actually life vests (mine are very similar ages to yours). But I never got to the *watching from the deck* phase. And I know that part of the fear is mine – I’m not a strong swimmer, and I have fears that I wouldn’t be able to help/save them if something went wrong.

    All that to say – great job.

    Ok, I’m going to go drink a beer so that I can sleep tonight. 🙂

  10. Agree, my mom’s anxieties have impacted me, but she didn’t really try to fight against them.

  11. While I’m perfectly at home in the water, that pretty much sums up my relationship with dogs. I just cannot get comfortable in the presence of them. And while rationally I know that Fluffy is just being friendly when it runs up and greets me I want to climb a damn tree and yell at the owner to get their damn dog under control. And no amount of anyone telling me how sweet and gentle the dog is is going to make me feel any better.

    So I just stand there and deep breath and try my best to just move away as soon as possible. Then avoid the person who insists on bringing their dog along everywhere as much as possible.

    And that moment when two dogs meet up with each other and do some barking as a form of greeting… serious terror.

  12. I love the water and I have had my kids in swimming lessons since they were babies. My husband on the other hand never learned to swim and so he has stress around the water. His biggest problem is that if something did happen with the kids, he feels that he would be unable to help them. The kids never swim without me, but they do go fishing with their dad. I have heard from the kids that he is very strict when they are out on their own. 🙂

  13. Now, for being a dog person? I have a very similar issue with dogs. I’ve been bit twice, once by a crazy as hell dog that everyone knew was dangerous and once by a cocker spaniel no one thought would ever do anything to anyone. My initial reaction is ALWAYS tension and fear. I get over it obviously since I do end up being a dog person, but I am very paranoid and my kids go up to owners FIRST and ask PERMISSION to pet their dogs because I want them to understand and respect the fact that NOT ALL DOGS ARE CUTE AND FRIENDLY.

    My brother got a dog (who I now love, for the record, she’s the sweetest) that looked a little scary (shiba inu + chow) and it did NOT get along with my boston terrier at the time who was very much an alpha but also VERY SMALL so she wouldn’t win a fight. Them together FREAKED ME OUT. But we went out and left the two dogs alone with Donnie and he just let them do their thing, fight a bit I guess, I don’t know, but when we got back it was like they didn’t care about each other. I would have spent all night keeping them separated because I was worried they kill each other. Not Donnie…he just trusted they wouldn’t kill each other and let them work out their aggression and figure out the pecking order on their own.

    MY POINT? (Jeezz….) I’m not as anxious as you are around dogs but man – I totally get it.

  14. We have a fish pond on our property and my five year old loves to “swim” in it with her ring like that. We tie a rope to it and that way we can pull her back in. I am a swimmer. I started taking lessons at age 3 and love to swim laps (in a pool) now. But open water swimming scares the bejezus out of me. We have no alligators in our pond. And yet I am terrified that they are there. I would love to use our pond to train for a sprint triathlon like you did, but cannot get past the idea of swimming out there where I can’t see in the water. And as to your level of anxiety, that’s me a lot of the time.

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