Like Charlie Brown, I'm in love with a little redheaded girl. Her name is Charleigh (pronounced Charlie), and she's my third of four children, second daughter, presenting middle child.
She's been hauled in distress from the lake the past three summers in a row, and I told her daddy I couldn't enter another summer without Charleigh's knowing how to swim, float, something. We signed both girls up for swim lessons at Aqua-Tots: Level 3, Fast Track. Six-year-old Clementine loved every minute of it.
Charleigh, though, struggled. She's strong and solid in the way my people mean when they say built like a brick shithouse, so there was never a question of physical capability. Problem is that she's strong-willed in the way my people mean when they say raised in the canebrake by an ol' mama lion. And Charleigh wasn't happy over the swim-lesson situation; in fact, she was periodically awash in terror.
The first week, I bit my nails watching Charleigh through the glass. Instructor Alex pulled her into the water and made her complete the drills even when she roared with her head tipped back or pleaded with her pale hands clasped together. Sometimes he worked with Charleigh's classmates while she dangled off his back like a baby monkey. Once, Charleigh broke free and ran, and the master instructor on duty had to abandon his class in the pool to return Charleigh to hers.
She did her fair share of yelling at me before and after class; one afternoon, I pulled the minivan off the side of the road and refused to drive until she quieted. I assured her over and over that Alex was not going to let her drown for fear of losing his job. (Ha!) But on the fifth morning, Charleigh melted down completely. Complete and utter hysteria.
"If you're not a big enough girl for swim lessons," I suggested, "maybe you're not big enough for Vacation Bible School."
"Or King's Dominion. Or a week at Nana's," Jim said.
"Or your birthday at Jellystone," I added.
Charleigh, sobbing, said: "Maybe we can just celebrate my birthday, next year." My eyes met Jim's. (His were wet.) He shrugged. For a moment, we were completely at a loss. Then I thought: this child has almost drowned three summers in a row; of course she's afraid. Of course the fast track's hard on her. But we've already paid (an arm and a leg); I'm watching her through the glass; her instructor is so kind, so patient; and ultimately, I'm just trying to keep her alive. She's going to have to be pushed through her fear. She needs to know how to swim. She's going to do this. Period.
It was the right decision. Somewhere in the middle of her fifth class and just like that, Charleigh stopped being afraid.
I see Charleigh's hysteria and hear my assurances that Alex will not let her drown. Then I see myself in a state of emotional disregulation. I've just come to understand the term for this form of it: panic. Like Charleigh's fear, it has been hard-earned. Our counselor has explained it to Jim in terms of drowning. ("She's going to come up clawing and scratching," he said, "or whatever she thinks she needs to do to survive.") I realize with a start that Jim isn't going to let me drown any more than Alex was going to let Charleigh drown, also that Father God (on the other side of the glass through which I see Him darkly) isn't going to let Jim let me drown any more than I was going to let Alex let Charleigh drown.
I see that, like Charleigh, I have to push or be pushed through my fear. Life with fear in one's heart isn't kind. It isn't God's best for any of us.
Parenting. Jesus promised: whatever we do for others (especially the least of them), we do for Him. But in my lifetime I have found that, often, whatever I do for others and from a perfect place in my heart, I do for myself. The Lord in His great mercy works it out that way.