Trust Issues

Birdy has spent a fair amount of time around swimming pools but, sadly, for her it has mostly been watching OB's swimming lessons through a huge glass window. So I was equal parts excited and apprehensive to get her in the pool at my parents' house in France and see how she went on.

We were here last summer, of course, and she went in the pool a bit then, but it was a long time ago and her eczema was so bad at the time that we really restricted her exposure. This time, with her skin so much better and her little chubby legs having finally mastered not only walking, but also running, I was hoping I'd have a water baby on my hands.

From the first day, it has been great. She was appropriately wary, and often keen to have her feet on the floor of the shallow step, but she allowed herself to be carried all around the pool by any of the adults there. If we held our hands out to her she would reach for us and let us pull her along the water to us. One time she adventurously dived off the step towards my stepdad when he wasn't expecting it and got a face full of water. He caught her immediately and we all clapped and cheered her, so she clapped and laughed, water streaming down her face.

OB was almost exactly the same age as Birdy when he got his first proper taste of the pool here, so I can't help myself comparing the two of them. Their reactions were so different. After a while, it struck me where the difference lies: Birdy trusts us. Yes, she's in an unfamiliar environment, and yes, she's a bit nervous about it, but basically she assumes that any one of the adults around her will make it ok, whatever happens, so she's willing to give it all a go.

With OB, I have learned that trust is a hard-won commodity, and can be easily lost for no real reason at all. On his first trip to my parents' pool, he preferred to stand on the shallow step with a watering can. In fact, 'step' was a word he learned that summer, which he would call out with increasing urgency whenever someone took him away from its safety.

We worked hard for two weeks and made good progress, but the following year, it was as if we had to start again. The third summer, my Mum managed the awesome feat of persuading him to jump off the poolside into her arms. I have photographic evidence! Yet we have been unable to repeat that success in two subsequent trips . . . well, there's still time yet this summer so you never know.

I am heartened though, because I know we can make progress with OB, and not just in the pool. Among other things, OB is terrified of dogs - I mean really, viscerally, out-of-control terrified. My parents had been dog-sitting my nephew's dog prior to our visit and we had introduced her to OB via skype, so when my nephew came to visit and asked if he could bring the dog, OB said yes, he would like to meet her.

But when the moment came, he couldn't control his terror. He had to be carried everywhere, high above the dog, and shook and wailed whenever she came near. As with all phobias, rational explanations carry little weight. My nephew's dog is clearly a gentle, soft-hearted animal. She lay perfectly still while Birdy 'stroked' her and shook her paw, yet OB was so scared we had to put the dog outside.

Despite it all, though, change has come. OB loves his cousin, and wanted to love his cousin's dog too. Tiny bit by tiny bit, OB steeled himself first to stand on the ground while the dog was in the room, then to allow the dog to walk past him without losing it. By the end of the second visit, the miraculous moment came when OB voluntarily touched her, and then stroked her, and then shook her paw. After that, he started constantly asking when the dog would be visiting again. His experience proved that our words were true, and a new little layer of trust was laid down.

Trusting others doesn't come easy to some kids. Knowing that Birdy trusts us is a wonderful thing. Knowing that OB can learn to trust is no less wonderful, whether it's fleeting or permanent.


  1. Wow. That's is a truly amazing step for both of them. Well done for your perseverance!

  2. Way to go OB! What a star. Excellent to hear about Birdy enjoying the pool too. X

  3. Wow! I can relate to so much of this. In fact, my oldest two watch our youngest trust us in awe. It seems to have impacted their progress and trust in us too. Small steps.


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