Her arms are stretched out. Her laughter almost skips across the surface of the pool, not unlike a stone that has been sent out with a perfect flick of the wrist. It's time to practice jumping into the pool again, under the watchful eyes of her teacher. I watch, eyes wide and holding my breath, as she confidently reaches out for her teacher's hands and momentarily disappears under the water.
I can't breathe.
My breath picks up again, shaky, not even seconds later when her head breaks the surface and her laughter rings out again.
They are practicing "scoopers and kickers" (the toddler-friendly terms for strokes and kicks). Not even two attempts have come to pass across the length of the pool when I hear Buttercup tell her teacher that she wants to do it herself. Up until this point, Buttercup's whole body has been kept afloat by her teacher's outstretched leg as she hopped backwards on the other foot to facilitate Buttercup's forward movements. Now she wants to go it alone.
I chuckle. Surely, her teacher will congratulate her for her confidence and continue to help so as not to traumatize my little girl the moment she realizes that for the first time in her young life, she's on her own. Right?
"Are you sure?" Her teacher is smiling. Proud. Smartly avoiding eye contact with the nervous mother who is wishing there was alcohol instead of water in that bottle I brought with me to calm my nerves. For a moment, I consider jumping in and backhanding this woman for even entertaining the thought and encouraging more like it in my daughter.
Are you crazy?" I think. "She's three! She's innocent! She's mine!"
"Yes!" Buttercup is ready. She wants her first real taste of independence. In a pool. During her second swimming lesson.
I think I'm going to die.
I watch, shaking, as Buttercup and her teacher begin the process of scooping and kicking and balancing her little body on one of the teachers legs. And on the count of three, Buttercup is released to scoop and kick on her own for a fraction of a second, her teacher lifting her body back up above the surface. My daughter sputters. Shocked. She wants to stop. I want them to stop. I would stop if it was me in the water with her. But it's not me in the water. And that's probably a good thing. Whereas I would do everything in my power to avoid creating fear by not pushing her beyond her limits, I would actually be creating the situation I'd be so desperately trying to avoid by not allowing my baby girl to learn to rely on anything or anyone outside of me.
"No, we can't stop in the middle of the pool, silly!" her teacher says cheerfully. "We need to scoop and kick to the other side so we can practice some more!"
So Buttercup keeps going, continuously pushed just beyond her comfort level, and gaining confidence with each and every moment spent in the water with a stranger. And as each moment comes to pass, I relax just a little more.
She's not the only one learning to let go.