Unlike most California babies who start swim classes virtually at birth, my two New York City-born transplants didn’t begin classes until the relatively ancient ages of 4 and 5.
With summer approaching, I realized there was no ducking the classes any longer and so I signed up my kids at one of a handful of swim schools around where we live: a little school with a somewhat pretentious French name and three locations.
With some difficulty we pinned down the instruction time. I paid no mind to who the teacher would be; I figured they must all be somewhat decent.
On the first day I delivered my bathing suit-clad children to a somber-looking young woman by the pool. She did not smile at me or the kids. I noticed this but tucked it away and didn’t think twice about it.
I sat behind the glass partition and looked hither and thither, reading, chatting with other waiting caretakers, every once in a while watching the kids. There seemed to be some serious business at hand in the class. Once the class finished, I got the kids showered, dressed and off we went.
The following week: same drill. Delivered the kids to an unsmiling teacher. Watched them through the glass. Picked them up afterwards.
Except this time, my daughter, the five-year-old, said: “Mommy, is it possible, if it’s not too much trouble, could we maybe get a new teacher?” (She really said it that way.)
“Why?” I asked. “What happened?”
“Nothing. I just was wondering if we could get a new teacher.”
Unlike my boy, who often protests classes, school or anything organized, my daughter loves classes. She has always adored teachers, babysitters, caretakers. She never once cried when we left her for an evening out.
“But why?” I pressed.
“This teacher is too … grouchy. She doesn’t seem happy. She’s not that nice to us.” And then: “Life’s too short to be unhappy.”
I almost fell over. Obviously she’s heard it from an adult. Probably me. Maybe her father. But here’s what blows me away: It stuck! She gets it. She doesn’t want to be around someone who makes her feel bad. Who doesn’t treat her well.
Do you know how long it took me to learn this lesson? Decades! And I still struggle with it. Recognizing in the moment that something doesn’t feel right or is not okay. Then taking steps to remove yourself from the situation. My daughter has learned to intuit this at five. What I was still trying to learn at thirty five.
It was a proud moment for me.