And They Swam and They Swam . . .
July 08, 2013
Posted By: Bozemama
When I was six my dad threw me overboard into the sea and yelled at me as I panicked. That was his idea of teaching me how to swim. He was a Depression-era Navy man with two sons and he had no time for coddling his third child and only daughter. (He did, however, take the time and energy to spoil me with beautiful little dresses and shoes, which means that I can now blame him for being both a terrible swimmer and a compulsive shopper.)
Some, particularly those of my father’s generation, would argue that the sink-or-swim methodology is the best approach. And while it has its upsides (no actual commitment of patience, ability, time or energy on the part of the teacher) it also has its downsides (possible post-traumatic stress and/or lifelong fear and phobia on the part of the learner). Any doubts I may have had about this conclusion were confirmed when I tried to teach Hermione to ski by pushing her down the bunny slope and hysterically yelling, “Pizza slice!!” from the top of the hill.
By the time Hermione finally disentangled herself from the safety net that had stopped her from flying into the lodge and had, at long last, decided to start speaking to me again, I swore that I would never again try to teach my children anything that requires any real talent or ability. Partly because I suffer from my father’s patented brand of impatience but also – quite frankly – because I have few life skills to teach; and no eyebrow shaping is not, sadly, an actual skill.
So, now, let’s go back to the swimming thing. Here is a fact: Swimming is a critical, potentially life-saving skill that every child should learn as early as possible. If those overachieving supermamas brave enough to attempt water birth are to be believed, then their babies emerged from the womb only to break into a Phelps-ian butterfly stroke before taking their first breath and never looked back. Needless to say, after my own near-drowning ordeal from early childhood, I did not have the courage to deliver my babies underwater. I did, however, know enough to at least get them in the water early and learning the very basics to prevent them from accidental drowning or public humiliation.
And that is where Charlie and Hermione’s swimming skills have remained stagnant for years. Like me, they are capable of floating, treading water, paddling around, swimming underwater . . . and that’s about it. Until now. Spurred by Charlie’s passion for the water and a mama’s vicarious desire for her children to go farther faster than she ever did or will, I recently signed him up for swimming lessons with the exceptionally awesome Coach Jen . Jen was recommended to me by my friend Sara whose brilliant and gifted seven-year-old daughter has been swimming with Jen for some time and has now broken the U.S. record for the 50 meter freestyle (well, almost).
Anyway, this woman is everything I’m not (patient, experienced, talented and sweet) and everything a fabulous teacher should be (patient, experienced, talented and sweet). Because while Charlie’s talk about “swimming” was big, his actual enthusiasm for really putting his face in the water was, shall we say, less so. No matter. Undaunted, Jen had Charlie submerged, happily humming and blowing bubbles by the end of his first lesson. A few lessons later, he’s learned the butterfly and is mastering freestyle and backstroke. I have never seen him more proud of himself and gratified by his hard work and accomplishment. And now Hermione, after seeing her brother’s abilities in the water skyrocket (heaven forbid he should master something she hasn’t), is right beside him and fine-tuning her own strokes.
Who knows where these swim lessons will lead Charlie and Hermione? Maybe nowhere other than the occasional trip to the Swim Center. Or maybe on a lifetime of exciting underwater adventures around the world together (hey, a mama can dream, can’t she?) But I do know where it won’t lead them: floundering, breathless and panicky, in the deep end.