"I am brave. I am safe. I can do it." Three little sentences but they are powerful ones, ones that I've been using with Zeke for the last few weeks and ones that will be repeated often this week at our house.
We started swimming lessons five weeks ago and they've been challenging for Zeke. The first session was fine because he didn't know what to expect. The second week, I was seated pretty far away from the pool and not really paying too much attention until the very end, when I could see him struggling to keep his emotions together. I thought he was just needing a bit of encouragement so I walked over the edge of the pool to do so which made it worse. Lots of tears and arms outstretched, begging me to take him out of the water. Thankfully, the lessons were almost over.
The third lesson he missed because he was sick but by lesson number four, he had decided he was way too scared to go. He hated that the instructors made him put his face in the water. He would start talking about swimming lessons on Monday mornings and get teary at 9 a.m.. He would cry getting into the car, telling me how much he didn't like swimming lessons and begging not to go. While it certainly would have been easier to just let him stay home, there are a lot of reasons that he needed to go. The lessons were already paid for. He can't just quit when something is hard. The other kids were all going. He wasn't being asked to do anything that he couldn't do, just something he would prefer not to do.
So what to do as a mom? I of course tried getting him to buy into the lessons by using the other kids to tell them about times they had been scared and to hype up how fun lessons were. Fail. So I started on a script which I hoped would cover the root of the problem. (A script is just a fancy way to say "words you can easily repeat or memorize".) I went with "You are brave. You are safe. You can do it." I repeated and repeated this when Zeke's anxiety would start returning. I repeated it as he got his coat on, in the car, at the pool, and after the lessons. He said it a few times on his own too.
Week five was rough. (For him and for me.) I moved closer to the edge of the pool so he could see me and as soon as he would get his face out of the water, he needed to find me and wave, often with his little face screwed up in a brave way while his eyes were teary. Lesson six was a bit better. He actually started giving the teacher a high five before he would find me to wave. We just had lesson seven last night. And Zeke finally was okay. He didn't look to me at all to wave and he actually jumped off the side of the pool into his teacher's arms at the end of the lesson, something he wouldn't do previously.
I'm so thankful that his anxiety has started to subside. I want him to be safe in the water but more than anything, since he started having so much fear about the water, I wanted him to see that even though something was scary, he could get through his fear to do what he needed to do.
This week, Zeke is going to have the first part of his pre op procedures for his upcoming surgery in May. He will be going to our local children's hospital to have two MRI's done, one on his hand and one on his foot which will allow the hand surgeon to map the blood vessels in both. For me, it mirrors the swimming pool experience a bit. Zeke will have to have two separate MRI's, on two separate days, with both requiring general anesthesia. I know he will be anxious. I will have to watch him be anxious. (And deal with my own anxiety.)
I'm just guessing I'll find myself saying, maybe for myself, maybe for him, "You are brave. You are safe. You can do it."