“I fear the ocean out of respect.” Dr. Danny Castellano
Our daughter started taking swimming lessons this fall. They happen during the day so I usually miss them firsthand. I get little snippets as to how they went from my daughter. Stuff like, “I put my ear in the water, Daddy!” or “I went down the slide, Daddy!” Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but sticking your ear in the water or going down a damn slide isn’t exactly swimming now is it? Still, I guess it’s getting her used to being in the water, although if you recall my post about the trampoline and pool party in August, you’ll remember that fear of the water isn’t something my daughter needs to overcome.
In any case, I’m sure swimming lessons have changed since the time when I was a kid. I have a vague memory of my Mom taking me to something when I was little, but I never learned to swim. It wasn’t until I got to grade 3 and we had to take swimming lessons with my entire class that my swimming education formally began. I still remember that first morning when we pretty much had to jump in the pool individually and show the instructor our swimming ability so he could stick us into the appropriate class. A Sorting Speedo, if you will. (Let it be Gryffindor! Let it be Gryffindor!) It seems awfully irresponsible now, but all us grade 3ers lined up on the side of the pool and one by one we had to jump in and swim the length of the pool. I was already shivering and I wasn’t even wet. My little voice tried to speak up, “Um, excuse me. Um, I can’t swim. I can’t swim. I don’t know how to swim.” But my half-hearted protestations were drowned out in the ambient noise of the screams and splashes of the other kids. When it came time for me to go, I stood on the edge of the pool and looked in. There was no fucking way I was going to jump in that pool. I couldn’t swim, people! So I was the only kid that took the ladder down, gingerly (always waiting for the inevitable shock when the cold water hits your nethers) and stood neck-deep in the shallow end. At this point, the instructor had patiently waited for me to make my entry, and I could tell his patience was wearing thin.
“Alright, kid. Show me how you can swim!”
I knew now that there was no point to continue with my protests: I was already in the pool and my nethers were already adjusting to the cold. So I did what I guess any kid would do in my place. I tried to swim. Who cares if I’ve never even so much as floated in a pool before? How hard could it be? I threw myself forward and kicked and flung my arms around and splashed and pretty much walked across the length of the shallow end almost to the other side. I thought I made a pretty convincing impression of a dude swimming, until I lost my footing towards the other side and I slipped under the water completely. I wasn’t panicked, because I could touch bottom and I just had to get my bearings, but before I could resurface, I could feel someone’s strong arms under my armpits and I was hauled out of the pool onto the deck. Careful readers will recall this was the second time I had been pulled from a pool. You’d think I’d learn, but I was just a kid and didn’t know I had options then.
I ended up in the beginner class, and that was just as well. I still didn’t learn how to swim that winter session, and it wasn’t until the following summer that my Mom realized for my own safety (and her own peace-of-mind, surely) that I should at least learn the basics.
[One tiny aside at this point: we’ve all heard the term “locker room talk” right? I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I am guessing it means you can talk crudely and explicitly about the other gender in the forced camaraderie that is created in a sporting culture. “That’s locker room talk!” or “Save it for the locker room, bud!” or stuff like that. But we were in grade 3. We weren’t really into girls, you know? But I do remember this one kid, Chris, appeared to not have any testicles at all. (I mean I’m not sure I was the one who actually noticed this tidbit, but it sort of became common knowledge). One day when we were changing one of our emboldened classmates flat-out asked him, “Hey Chris, where are your balls?” I’ll never forget his response. He just stoically looked us all in the eye and said, “Never you mind. Never you mind.” and that was what. None of us dared ask again. Another time, I remember we had a huge discussion as to the validity of the easter bunny and Santa Claus. And the group of us came to the consensus that the easter bunny, in fact, was not real, but that Santa was, obviously. So reaffirming the existence of Santa and the absence of a classmate’s nuts were what passed for locker room talk in grade 3.]
Luckily, my cousin was a lifeguard at one of the City pools, and her parents happened to have a swimming pool in their backyard, so every week for a whole summer my Mom would drive my brother and me over to our aunt and uncle’s place and my cousin would give us private lessons. Even with this enhanced attention, I still don’t think I ever got to the point where I could save myself if I fell in the water. I remember the different levels were colour-coded and you had to complete various tasks to pass to the next level. If you were unable to complete any of the tasks, you couldn’t advance. I guess it is sort of like the coloured belts one earns in martial arts, but wetter.
Don’t quote me on this, but I think the first colour was yellow, followed by orange, and then red. I think I remember this because red was as far as I got. I think to move past red, you had to learn how to dive head first, and there was no fucking way ANYBODY, not even my cool cousin, would get me to do that. Not even a “free trip around the pool on the air mattress” trick would work on my that time. Just the thought of standing on the edge of something and going in head first turned my stomach. You could injure yourself doing that, right? It’s like skydiving, aside from those who enjoy thrill seeking, why would anyone jump out of a plane that is functioning perfectly well?
So: in case we are ever at a pool together, this is what I can do. I can float on my back and my front. I can swim on my back pretty well, but don’t expect me to do a bunch of fancy arm movements, I like to keep a low profile. I can swim on my front, dog paddle style, but not for very long. But treading water? Shit, I can tread water like a motherfucker, friend. And that’s about it water-wise. I can also sit in a hot tub and a sauna for a few minutes. I’m pretty good at that too. And I can order drinks at the pool bar like a horse whisperer.
So I hope my daughter does better than me, and it looks like she is off to a good start. These first 1300 words are just a pre-amble to the actual gist of this post. (What am I? Filibustering here?)
Like I mentioned at the beginning, my work schedule prevents me from taking my daughter to her lessons, but recently things changed around and I was free on the morning it happened, so I went with my wife and daughter to see what all the fuss was about.
We got to the pool in good time, and I went through the men’s locker room to meet my wife and daughter pool side. My wife had warned that I couldn’t wear my street shoes out onto the pool deck, but I could remain clothed. It wasn’t like those little baby classes where you jumped right in the pool with your kid. You just sat on the side, in sandals. My wife found this out the hard way on the first day of classes. She changed into her swimsuit and came out only to find the other moms were all in their lulu lemon yoga pants and tops, and my wife was left shivering on the sidelines. Even our daughter knew something was amiss and eventually said to her mid-lesson: “Mommy, why don’t you go for a swim?”
So here was the three of us, ready for the swimming lesson, and only one of us was in a suit. There were only four kids in total in this class. I thought maybe a bunch had called in sick, but my wife told me they didn’t take more than four. That’s a huge change from the 30 or so of us grade 3’ers collectively shivering. I was really impressed (and maybe slightly jealous) of my daughter’s total familiarity with the water. Sure, she was in a toddler pool with no deep end, but she went right in there without a second thought and started splashing around like the little sea otter she was supposed to emulate. (Did I mention that? The classes no longer have colours attached to them. They are all named after cute animals. Sea otter is first, then you graduate to….I don’t know…..a sea horse? or a tadpole? You’d think tadpole would be first, then frog, then, I don’t know? alligator? An mother fuckin’ alligator would be kick-ASS. I should be running these classes, damnit!)
At one point, we were treated to the sight of a guy who looked like a heavier hairier version of Jimmy Fallon. And yes, dear reader, he was sporting a tiny black speedo. He strutted a complete circle around the pool, making sure we all got a good look at him. I couldn’t quite figure him out. There was a group of people with special needs in the next pool. Was he one of the helpers? Was he an employee of the pool? Or was he one of the special-needed chaps himself? He eventually slipped into the pool and began doing laps, but with a flutter board and then later with an air mattress. He was still in the pool when we left, and the “jury” was still “out” on him. (But I’m leaning towards special needs.)
The class went by really fast! It was a half an hour, and our daughter was put through her paces by the friendly instructor. The older I get, the younger people in authority seem to get, but this blonde haired, dark-eye glass framed hipster wearing instructor couldn’t have been older than 19. I don’t think our daughter did any actual swimming, but she sure had fun. One minute she’s being dragged around the pool pretending to be a motor boat, and the next she’s hunched over in a ball on the side of the pool. The instructor pours water over her and she sprouts up! She was a seed and now she is a plant. But wait! There’s more! The instructor then “saws” down the plant and the plant jumps into the pool. It looked like fun. I kinda wished I DID bring my swim trunks after all, but that would have been weird, right? No one wants to see a nearly 40-year-old man pretend to be a seed on the side of the pool, right? I’m sure I would have been escorted out.
But it would have been my chance. My moment of redemption for my public shaming in grade three. I could have scrunched up with the best of them. Leapt up taller than anyone else when made moist by the watering can, and then I could have triumphantly jumped into the arms of the young instructor who was half my size and weight to the cheers and applause of my wife and daughter. At that moment, that one shining moment, I coulda been a sea otter.