Swimming lessons, while necessary for kids, can be exhausting for parents
This summer, I have driven back and forth to our local swimming pool 52 times per week. I have rinsed, wrung out and hung bathing suits to dry 77 times. I’ve snatched my daughters’ goggles away from the mouth of our mischievous Lab puppy 31 times. And I have applied sunscreen to myself and two small people no less than five thousand and three times. Per day.
My hair is sure to turn green from chlorine at any moment. I am so waterlogged I think I’m growing scales. I might, in fact, be a mermaid.
Fine, I’m exaggerating. Yes, I know the numbers don’t make sense. But y’all know me by now, so I’m not worried about it.
However, it is no exaggeration to say that with one daughter on a swim team and one in daily swim lessons, the pool has become our home away from home. I now know what my retired teacher mother truly meant when she said—speaking of mine and my sister’s childhood, and her summers “ff—that, “We lived at the pool.”
Getting to swim is a privilege. Knowing how to swim is a necessity. So it was with no hesitation that my husband and I said “yes” when our older daughter, age seven, told us she wanted to be on the swim team this summer. Despite the fact we knew she was still learning and unlikely to swim in a meet — and if she participated in said meet, might not make it to the end of the lane without being disqualified. (She did, and wasn’t, to our delight). In spite of the cost of joining the team, and of our travel-heavy summer schedule, which meant she’d only be around to swim in one or two meets.
It was also with no hesitation that I signed up our younger daughter, 4, for a week-long swim “camp.” Despite the fact I knew I’d be racing around town like a blonde, maternal Danica Patrick, trying to get everyone where they needed to be several times a day. My 4-year-old is fearless, and I know many people say this about their child, but I mean it. She tried to dive off the dock at my parents’ lake house when she was 2. Over the Fourth of July weekend this very summer, she took a running leap off that same dock, sans PFD. It’s over 60-feet deep out there.
I jumped in after her, wearing a nice shirt. I torpedoed beneath her, pushing her up until she surfaced. She was smiling, only slightly confused as to why I was suddenly in the water. Not scared in the least.
As a former swim instructor who ran the swimming program at a summer camp for far too many years, I can say with feeling that while parents and family members can and should play with and subtly advise their children in the water, it needs to be someone else who teaches them. A child’s instinct, especially with someone—like a lifeguard or swim coach—whom they admire, is to rise to that person’s expectations. Yes, they may not be the best listeners in the pool at all times. They are children, after all. But kids will want to please those fascinating older people who don’t happen to be their parents.
The water is a wonderful place to be. It’s also a dangerous place. I’ve plucked a flailing child from beneath the water with her mother swimming yards away, and had a friend jump in after my own child when I was standing on the other side of a dock. It happens fast, and it can happen to anyone. Supervision—having eyes on your children as much as is humanly possible while they’re in the water, even when lifeguards are present—is key.
There is no more important task in the summertime South — or, for that matter, anywhere in the world — than learning how to swim. Local YMCAs offer deals on swim lessons, and almost any city or neighborhood pool has a swim instructor or lifeguard who’d be willing to give private lessons. If you can’t afford lessons, what about offering a trade? Do you clean houses or cars, cook meals or tutor in math? Perhaps there’s a swim instructor out there ready and willing. As a teenager, I’d have given a kid a swim lesson for a haircut.
Even though I’ve spent so much time at the pool I have a sneaking suspicion I’m growing gills, I know my daughters’ swim lessons and time on a swim team are worth it. They are worth having to deal with my kids’ initial hesitance (OK, one daughter—the other’s a wild card) and perhaps my own anxiety.
Are you an adult who can’t yet swim? Are you perhaps letting fear keep you from making sure your children or grandchildren learn? Shake off embarrassment as if the feeling is nothing but a dumb old horsefly: everyone has to start somewhere. Your willingness to learn teaches your children a powerful lesson in resilience and courage.
Please let me be clear: The time to learn is now. Swimming lessons are worth facing any fear any of us may have, no matter how old we may be.