Ivan started his first swimming lessons in May and since I had such a good time going with Veronika, I didn't exactly politely refuse when Dinka asked me if I'd like to take him. In the first class, he was a little scared when his feet hit the water, shivering and clinging to me for dear life. In the next thirty minutes, he loosened up a bit (tub toys help) and even released his hold on my neck for long enough so I could let him face forwards as we sang our closing hymns ("Wheels on the Bus," "Ring Around the Rosey," etc.). The post-game shower was another terrifying ten minutes and he kept his nose nuzzled into my neck until it was over. As I was dressing him, he emerged from his forty-five-minute cocoon of silence with a few grunts indicating that he was still alive and had some specific demands. By the time we stepped into the sunlight outside of the YMCA, he was his old self again, only to crash five minutes later on the way home.
I loved being there with/for him through this experience. Swimming lessons are a nice metaphor for parenthood and my favorite kind at that—obvious. For my part, I'm telling him, "I know this place is big and scary and you don't know what to do yet, but I'm right here with you and I'm going to teach you. You'll see, it's pretty cool and you're going to love it." And for Ivan, it's first about learning to trust me (you know, someone that's not his mother) and then letting go a little bit at a time, venturing out with a safety net. (I suppose that the other way to look at this is forced bonding through subjection to a hostile environment: "You will die without me! Love me!") As he clung to my neck, I felt a tremendous rush of proud-and-protective-father-type feelings.
Ivan and I have had some tough times over the past year-plus and moments like that go a long way in helping us both keep going. Sunday's rocky trip to the airport to pick up Grandma reminded me that he and I still have a lot to work through and that there will be some spectacular battles of will in our future, but we'll keep pressing on. The Father's Day card I received Sunday morning and have looked at ten times since then assures me of that:June 17, 2007