Let’s put it this way: at the moment Shi Hui would be happier if every pool were no more than three feet deep. Needless to say, her first swimming lesson was in water deeper than that, and the prospect gained her full throated disapproval.

What is a dad to do? Do I cancel the day’s attempt? Do I attempt to force the issue? Do I sit down on the pool deck and join my daughter in an emotional outburst? How about none of the above?

I walked Shi Hui down to the shallow end, where she ran to the water (and slipped s she sprinted around the corner of the pool), and then gleefully showed me her very own swimming lesson. I watched, gave an enthusiastic thumbs up, and then pointed to where the lesson had begun. “Swimming School,” I said. My wife and I had introduced the idea do lessons as school, and so the concept was not a new one to her. School is where work gets done. “Play,” I said as I pointed to the shallow end. “School,” I said as I pointed to where the other kids were working.

Shi Hui pointed to the water around her, making her desire fairly clear. And so I pulled out the rarely used father voice, “Wei Wei.” She looked up. This was business. “School.” She walked up the handicapped ramp and trudged back to the lesson with me, unhappy, but without the tears that had led to our respite.

During the first exercise with the instructor (kicking using a kickboard) she clung to him with the fearful grip of death. During the next exercise (taking a breath and submerging with her hands extended above her head, and which, thankfully, we had been practicing already), she released the instructor. And for the third exercise (a reprise of the kicking), she took firm grip of the board and kicked away.

After the lesson, she returned to the more familiar depths and practiced for half an hour. Laughing and smiling all the way.

I don’t know what the best way to encourage a child to push her limits. My other daughter will go to the mattresses (Godfather slang) over math homework, and no father or mother voice can stem the tide. I don’t know how or when Shi Hui will draw her lines in the sand over food, effort, or rules. But today felt like a gentle victory. I cross my fingers and hope for more.