“That’s my daughter, in the water” – Loudon Wainwright – Daughter
It seems they start swimming the moment they leave the womb nowadays (this is almost literally in the cases of water births). A good thing it is too. Get them used to the water when they’re young and it will never seem a strange and scary place. Swimming itself will come more naturally when they’re not worrying about the water.
We fully intended for our daughter to go to one of the many water based baby groups, but due to one thing and another she was past two by the time I took her to her first swimming class. Still very young of course, and I’m sure I was much older than that when I learnt to swim, but my daughter was alone amongst her group in being entirely new to the water, as other parents regaled with the time their kids had spent in the pool on various holidays that I’m still not sure how people with young children afford.
My, did she hate that first lesson, she grudgingly accepted being in the baby pool before the actual lesson began, but the moment we entered the main pool it was as if every torture imaginable were being visited upon her. Even the most benign of the activities led to screaming and more screaming and occasionally calming down just for a moment to gather her energies to begin to scream again. Her blotchy red eyes glared at me accusingly, as if it to say “Why? Why on earth have you bought to me to this strange liquid place where my feet cannot touch the ground?” It was one of the longer half-hours of my life, to be sure.
I seriously started to doubt whether it was wise to return the following week, but I had paid in advance for 12 weeks, so as an accountant and a Yorkshireman I had no option but to go back, just to get my value for money. And that second week was strangely fine. Some bits she didn’t like, some bits were fine, but there was no full scale meltdown as there had previously been. It became more and more enjoyable as the weeks went by.
We made a whole Saturday morning routine out of it, bus journey into town, front of the top deck, pointing out the things we passed by and her occasionally making loud embarrassing comments (such as “That gorilla has boobies” – long story). Then our swimming lesson, and retiring to the cafe afterwards for coffee (me) and croissant (her), watching the world go by, beaming with pride at this little person we had created and the new things she was learning. It swiftly became my favourite part of the week.
The actual learning to swim progressed only fitfully, with progress made some weeks, other weeks almost going back to where we began. Our daughter is a wilful child and likes to learn at her own pace, in her own way, not so keen on being told what to do. She also didn’t like to be too far away from me in the pool. She’s not typically overly anxious at being separated from her parents, but in this particular situation there was a need to have me within touching distance. Despite my love of these mornings together I did start to worry if she would ever be able to swim supported not be me, but by her swim teacher or even a woggle (a bendy bit of foam seemingly preferred to armbands or floats now as a children’s swimming aid – see above)
Then one day, the teacher took her, woggle underneath chest, towards the edge of the pool, and simply released her. It can only have been a metre or two to the edge of the pool, instinct kicked in, and she swam truly alone for the first time. A small thing, but in that moment, I was happier, more proud than any achievement of my own could make me. In that moment, I released that this had been a lesson as much for me as it was for her. And in that moment I released that, as a parent, this is what my life would be now, a never-ending series of lessons in learning to let go.