Lily has always been a reserved child who carefully assessed her surroundings, cautiously “dipping her toe” into new situations to test the waters of her comfort zones.
After I started working at the YMCA Youth Services department 5 years ago, and witnessed how much fun children were having at the Y, the skills they were learning and the confidence they were gaining, I knew that it was time for me immerse Lily into the vast pool of YMCA programs, such as swimming, to help her grow.
Lily did not “dive right into” the swimming experience. I remember 3 year old Lily’s first swim lesson and how she cried as I took her to the Plexiglas cordoned swim area and she realized I would be on the other side, not in the pool with her. I remember the kindhearted swim instructor offering to sit with Lily on the side of the pool and gently encouraging Lily to become comfortable with the water by swishing her legs in the water, unfazed by a crying 3 year old and empathetic of her fear of being in the water. She told Lily that she would not let go until Lily told her she was ready. For the next two years, Lily’s grip on the swim instructors’ necks loosened and eventually she purposefully drifted closer and closer to the kiddie pool’s deep-end feeling confident in the water, testing her limits (I’m sure the instructor’s also, though I’d never know), feelings safe at the YMCA.
Fast forward two years, and the YMCA swimming program has become a huge anchor in Lily’s pro-social life and emotional growth. It’s her self-esteem buoy when life’s waters are rocky, as well as safe place for Lily to test the depths of her confidence.
In July 2015, Lily was apprehensive to transition into the ‘big pool’! She was adamant that she would not jump into the shallow end without her life jacket and, “Don’t forget mom…I NEVER EVER want to jump on the diving board…EVER!”
Luckily, Elliot was Lily’s swim instructor that summer. His approach was supportive, but also structured. He recognized that while Lily was apprehensive about swimming in the deep end, she had the potential to overcome her fears and gave her the gentle ‘push’ she needed by creating a safe space for her to jump into a new experience feet first.
It took the Village of the YMCA Aquatics team to help her feel safe up on that diving board. They gave Lily the opportunity to walk across the plank with her own two feet and gave her time to work through her own internal dialogue to assess whether she was ready to take the leap. They also knew when to ask Lily if she wanted help, allowing Lily choose the support she needed. Sealed with Lifeguard Adam’s pinkie swear, Lily knew that when Lifeguard Adam let go, Instructor Elliot would catch her!
By March 2016 Lily couldn’t wait to dive into her swim lesson! Knowing that Aaron was waiting in the deep end, she was eager to show off her jumping skills knowing that after her jump, they’d both be treading the water together back to the shallow end.
Instructor Aaron is a mentor to her; she happily fills him in on her 7 year old life every Saturday and can’t wait to hear Aaron yell, “LILLLLLLLLLLY!” when he sees her enter the deck.
While Lily had previously been resistant to the idea of Day Camps (“Mom! I am NEVER EVER going to camp…EVER!”); she is eager to go to YMCA Day Camp at Geneva Park this summer because she learned that “Instructor Aaron may be there” and that “Instructor Aaron says I will have so much fun”.
The YMCA has helped my “Little Fish” recognize that she has the skills and the support of her YMCA family to make a “splash” both in and out of life’s “big pond”. By helping Lily to shed her “water wings” and learn that she can overcome some of her deepest fears, they’ve helped Lily soar.