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On Getting Better: In Too Deep

I’ve been bragging recently about my daughter’s early education. (Joyful, joyful! The girl is learning to read!) We’ve also been trying to teach her some other skills — things like self-control, critical thinking, and fingerpainting.

Last weekend, though, it was too hot to spend any time time learning (or teaching, for that matter). Summer has shown up in a big way this year, so we took a break from all the preschooling and spent Saturday afternoon at a friend’s house, playing in the pool with just our family.

I was surprised to discover how good of a swimmer Annabelle already was. She wore the orange floaty wings to keep her on the surface, but she was quite content to set off by herself across the deep end of the pool, kicking her little feet in water that would have terrified me at twice her age.

She had a funny quirk, though. She hated getting splashed. Specifically, she hated getting water in her eyes. Whenever it happened she would squeeze them tight shut, flail blindly to the nearest edge of the pool, and then sprint around trying to find her towel by touch, so she could dry her face. Often she spent the whole time screaming about the water in her eyes, wailing, but after a quick dab with the towel she was perfectly happy and ready to jump back in.

It was silly, and with all the progress we’ve been making I couldn’t help putting on my teacher’s hat again. I showed her how to wipe her eyes and blink away the water. I shower her how safe it was to dive and duck underneath (by doing it myself), and then I threw her up in the air and let her splash down in the water.

She was scared — good old-fashioned roller-coaster terrified — but when I wiped her eyes and she blinked them clear she was grinning. And there was one silly childhood fear conquered. She still didn’t want to go underwater, but she no longer had to jump out of the pool every time a little wave slapped her face, and that was real progress.

I wanted to make sure the lesson completely sank in, so we did that several times over the course of the afternoon…usually in the shallow end. At one point, though, I was sitting on a shelf in the deep end, she swam up to me all smiles, and I scooped her up and heaved her in the air.

And when she came down…I missed her.

She slipped through my hands and shot several feet underwater. I grabbed for her, freaking out, but couldn’t find her. I didn’t even have time to move, but it felt like hours before her floaties finally buoyed her to the top.

Her eyes were wide open, and as I scooped her out of the water I was relieved to hear her burst into tears and wailing. I handed her off to her mom (knowing she must feel traumatized and betrayed by her monstrous father), and it took several minutes — torn between tears and violent coughing — before she regained control.

When she finally settled down, Trish said, “Are you okay?”

“Oh yeah!” Annabelle said. “That was fun!”

I thought, “Oh, man! She was under too long. That’s clear brain damage.” I swam over to her and said, “I’m really sorry, Annabelle. I’m not going to throw you in the air ever again.”

“No, it’s okay,” she said. “I’m not scared to go underwater anymore. I can just swim back up to the top!”

Writing in the Deep End

I never would have done that on purpose, but she learned a valuable lesson from getting in over her head. Apparently she did exactly what she knew to do — sealed her lips, held her breath, and kicked with her legs. And when she broke the surface, the learned that being underwater wasn’t nearly as dangerous a thing as she had thought. That discovery opens up a world of opportunities next time she goes swimming.

It’s the same with writing, or any other master craft. You’ve got to learn some basics, and it always helps to have an experience coach handy to haul you out if you flounder, but one of the best ways to really move forward is to dive into the deep end. Come back tomorrow to read about improving your writing by trying the hard stuff.

2 Responses to “On Getting Better: In Too Deep”

  1. Courtney Cantrell says:

    “Writing in the deep end.” I like it–both the phrasing and the activity. I’ll be back for more tomorrow. ;o)

  2. Wow. That had me gripped Aaron. I’m a little scared now but will be back to read about the hard stuff. Shall I bring my own floaties? 😉