When we first moved into our neighborhood I signed up for a gym on my block. It was really small (and cheap) and had fitness classes, a swimming pool and most importantly a children’s play room where we could go for a change of scenery during the winter. But when we moved in 18 months ago it was the summer and the kids were fascinated by the swimming pool. Lessons were free as members and every Tuesday evening I took my then 3 and 1/2 year old and my 18 month old.
Our first foray into swimming lessons were torture. My son wouldn’t let go of me and cried in the teacher’s face. He left us both with scratches all over our necks because he was holding on like his life depended on it. My daughter liked the water enough, but her panicked brother made her nervous — like he knew something terrible that she was missing. She never cried but she wouldn’t let go of me. Lessons consisted of me cajoling and encouraging while trying to keep a hold on my bathing suit top. The kids never left my hip and we stopped going after 3 weeks.
Not that I really minded. I don’t swim. I grew up a poor Puerto Rican in urban Queens. I don’t think I saw a swimming pool other than on TV until I was 10. I learned to swim in my early teens because we moved to Long Island and I felt I should at least know how to not die if I was submerged in water. And that’s pretty much the extent of my ability. I know how to not die. I’m not afraid of the water and I certainly love jumping in and out of a pool on a hot day, but no one would ever call me a swimmer. Not even a little bit.
I would love my kids to learn to swim, but I’m thinking it just might not be in the cards. When we went to the pool last night, the lifeguard tied wet noodles (those flotation thingys) in knots around their waists and threw them in to the water where I was waiting. They both went completely under before bobbing back up looking shocked and horrified. That set the tone off poorly. Over the course of our time in the pool they stayed glued to me just like their first few times but they found the nerve to let go of my neck and hold on to my hand or arm or even the side of the pool. It was certainly progress and I was proud. But these kids are going to be 5-years-old and 3-years-old in a matter of weeks and their skill and comfort levels are not exactly impressive. I’m beginning to think their aquatic fate will be the same as mine — the best they can hope for is learning how to tread water.