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Swimming Lessons

The perfume of my childhood summers evokes such happy, lazy days, filled with the aroma of barbecued burgers, smoky bonfires, lighter fluid, Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil and chlorine.

Even today, the smells of swimming pools make me nostalgic for carefree youth in which we, not our parents, were expected to fill the time. We called it boredom. I see now it was a gift.

For how many hours we kids spent swimming, I can’t remember either parent in the water with us.

I wish my son had quite that freedom. But I was determined to give him a better introduction to swimming than mine. Family lore has it that one of my first dips in the inflatable wading pool involved actual snakes. My big brother, then probably nine, had caught them, in the nearby creek but forgot to alert our Mom of their new habitat.

Children being resilient, I was soon enough spending hours at Marco Polo and cannon-balling off the high dive. I wished for my infant boy to love the water like I did.

There was also a dark aspect. When I was little, my beloved younger cousin Deana, like a baby sister to me, had been bumped by her St. Bernard into the family’s backyard pool. Her grandmother had run inside for a thimble, and the phone rang. Five minutes later, toddler Deana was gone. Her legacy is that every child in my family took lessons early, many before they walked.

And so was the case with my baby.

We luck out in having an affordable city pool down the street. It is indoors, which isn’t my favorite, but in cold and scorching weather it is a blessing. And nobody has to be smothered in sun block.

Before he was walking, I toted my infant down to the pool. He was remarkably secure about floating on his back. He was also the only baby in the water. The pool was swarming with children—loud, screaming, shoving, jumping off the deck to throw waves of water into my baby’s face.

He just blinked and giggled. I was calm, he was calm. He didn’t seem to know fear, and was open to the splashing world.

A few years later, not so much.

The whole Mommy and Me class ended with a sigh. It was tolerated. Same pool. Same parents. But a sign of the water temp was the teachers wearing wetsuits.

Then came group lessons which, to me, were tedious at toddler age and taught playing more than swimming. That’s fine if it suits you, or you feel unprepared in the water, or enjoy racing home from work to be splashed in the face for a half hour by strangers.

Otherwise, you can do the whole floating, splashing and kicking thing on your own.

Given our family history, I went for the one-on-one. At a neighborhood swim school where the water was balmy warm, they knew what they were doing. It was about $15 per 15-minute lesson. But I had the peace of mind of seeing my son, still in swim diapers and jeans, bumped into the water but able to swim to the pool side.

A decent amount of my friends shuddered at the teachers dunking the tikes, could not take watching them scream furiously, or frightened, and give that look that says, have you forsaken me? The school’s view, which I shared, was that you can’t swim well with a dry face.

There were weeks of panic and dread. Bribery by Hot Wheels was committed by someone close to the case. It was enough reward to gut through initial fear for a 15-minute lesson.

“Look!” I said, a bit too chirpy, pointing to a giant clock. “Five minutes are already gone!

My husband would say, it’s not worth this. Let’s take a break and revisit this. But I witnessed three-month-olds pollywog around, and I knew the tragedy of seeing a toddler survive without brain activity for years. It would not befall us.

To me, there was no better way to show that we can overcome fear. With swimming, you do one stroke after another, you do it or you sink. So you do it.

As a Mom, I learned unexpectedly about faith. My child would get past momentary panic and gain confidence in having done so. He would learn what he could do. He would be braver each time. And so would I.

Any time we faced some daunting task that seemed beyond our reach, we could remember swim lessons, and say, if you can learn to stay afloat, you can do anything.

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If you are looking for public pools in your area, check out our Top 10 Summer Splashes blog entry by Elise

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