The Swimmer

“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.

 

 

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Blog – I Like This Music

Just over a year ago I wrote about the songs that were making my then one year old daughter dance. Of course, at that time, her dancing mainly consisted of wriggling around in her high chair, so it was mainly my own interpretation of which songs she was reacting to.


A year on though, things have changed. She’s now perfectly capable of telling me which songs she likes, and “I like this song” and “I like this music” have become two of her favourite phrases. Endearingly, she thinks each song is called “a music”, and when each song comes to an end she’ll say “I want another music”. Songs she doesn’t like will be swiftly dismissed with “I want a different music”, often within seconds of beginning (the younger generation, no attention span you see). Here’s some of he recent likes and dislikes:

Hits

  • Amy Winehouse
  • Johnny Cash (especially Ring of Fire)
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Beirut (I was a bit surprised by this one, to be honest)

Misses

  • Arctic Monkeys
  • Miles Davis
  • New Order

Mixed Reception

  • R.E.M.(Liked The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, not sure about the rest)
  • Blondie (Liked everything except Pretty Baby strangely)
  • The Be Good Tanyas (Completely ignored this, may have just been listening raptly)

Not quite sure what, if anything can be determined about her taste in music from the above list, but i’ll continue to put different types of music on and see what she likes, although I may spare her some of the more, shall we say, experimental elements of my record collection for now.

It’s not (entirely) about indoctrinating her with my own tastes in music, of course. I just love the fact she seems to genuinely enjoy music now. I love the fact that when we go downstairs in the morning, the first thing she says is “play some music, daddy”. Well, usually the first thing she says is “I want Rice Krispies”, but music is usually a close second.

The other morning before work I found myself dancing around the living room with my wife and daughter to Amy Winehouse, and if there’s a better way of starting a day, I’m yet to find it. Some memories become treasured over time, but that was one of those moments that, even as I experienced it, I knew I would always look back on with fondness. Here’s hoping that music brings us many more moments like it.

MBW

Tiny Dancer

There are many things my daughter does which make me smile, but her dancing is one of the finest. One of my favourite memories from when she was very little is doing a silly dance in front of her, and she (seemingly) started trying to copy my moves. A little later she started bopping around in her high chair to tunes on 6music, which we have on almost always at mealtimes (I even wrote a piece on ten of the songs that made her dance).

Now though, nothing makes her happier than to hit a button on one of her many musical toys, and bop away to the (usually immensely irritating) music. She has two main dance moves, The Twist, and alternately raising each arm in the manner of a football fan singing ‘Let’s all have a disco”.

My daughter, in dancing pose.
My daughter, in dancing pose.

My wife claims our daughter’s dancing style is reminiscent of mine, all arms and hands, very little movement of the legs. And it’s interesting that she likes to twist, as one of my only memories of dancing in childhood is winning third place in a Twist competition at Butlins Skegness when I must have been about seven.

After that brief moment of glory, I don’t remember dancing again for a decade. Children traditionally mainly dance at weddings, but I didn’t go to a single wedding from ages 2 to 29, so that was out. As an akward, shy teenager, I had no desire to attend school discos, so that was out too. Then at age 17, I finally attended my first nighclub, an indie night at the local University, and realised that hey, bopping up and down to my favourite songs whilst slightly drunk could be fun. It was dancing in spirit at least, even if it involved very little co-ordination.

Then a couple of years later I truly discovered the delights of electronic music and much of the next ten years was spent in techno clubs, where the aforementioned hand-heavy dancing style developed (probably as many of the nights didn’t end until 6am, and I didn’t have much movement left in my legs by then). The techno clubs tended to be split between the people who were there to dance, and the people who were there to stand at the front stroking their beards and watching very carefully what the DJ was doing and exactly what set up they had ( I was perhaps 90% the former 10% the latter, but I think a few of my friends may have been a bit more fifty-fifty).

Me, shortly before my retirement from techno dancing
Me, shortly before my retirement from techno dancing

At 29, I met my wife and some of our best times together were spent dancing, particularly at Born Bad and Spellbound in Brighton. And of course, one of our very happiest days, our wedding involved much dancing, although the first dance was perhaps not my favourite part of the day. With not really as much time to prepare for the wedding as would have been ideal, something had to give and that was practicing the dance, so it ended up as more of a slow walk round the dance floor together, trying to forget everyone was watching (a great song though, more on which tomorrow).

One of the things I miss now we have a child is going out dancing together, but I’m sure it will still be part of our lives, even if infrequently (we have our eyes on the Whitby Northern Soul Weekender once we feel bold enough to leave our daughter with a grandparent for a whole weekend). I certainly hope so, as dancing has bought me so much pleasure in my life. There is a lot to be said for the simple joy and abandon in losing yourself to the music. I hope our daughter continues to dance too, and that she gets as much pleasure from it at 18 years as she does at 18 months. Not that she will be drinking in nightclubs one day of course, oh no.

Losing the ‘Most Competitive Dad’ competition

I don’t think of myself as an especially competitive person. Although I suspect my sister might disagree, as she remembers me kicking over the Risk board in frustration many hours into a particular drawn out attempt at the war-themed board game one Christmas (My side of the story is that I knocked it over by accident, but no-one believes me). My wife might also disagree as she looks at my smug face when I get a particular good score at Scrabble. Anyone who’s ever done a pub quiz with me would probably disagree as well (the fact that I still remember a disputed Belle and Sebastian question from a pub quiz 15 years ago is not a good sign).

Not genuine scrabble words
Not genuine scrabble words

So, perhaps I’m a little more competitive than I realise when it comes to games, but I don’t think I’m too competitive when it comes to life. I don’t begrudge people who have become more successful than me, or earn more money, or have a better house or car, and I don’t believe that me doing well means that someone else has to do badly. Parenting, however, is one area of life where it’s really tough not to be competitive.

Practicing for the father-daughter piggyback race?
Practicing for the father-daughter piggyback race?

I know, deep down, that all children develop at different rates, and it doesn’t matter in the slightest if our daughter learns to walk a little later than our friends’ kids (to pick an example not entirely at random). But still, when someone asks “Is she walking yet” I can’t just say “No”, I have to say “No, but she’s really close” or “No, but she’s really advanced when it comes to imaginative play”, negating any imagined slight with some praise. The opposite is also true, if someone praises my daughter’s vocabulary, I’ll tend to say, “yeah, but she can’t walk yet”. I think it’s the combination of the natural competitiveness of the parent with the natural self-depreciation of the British.

I do wonder sometimes when I’m trying to encourage my daughter to take her first steps whether I’m doing it to encourage her development, or so that I can tell people she can walk. I’m pretty sure it’s at least 90% the former. Or I hope so at least.

Still, it’s already very apparent that there are many, many parents out there who are far more competitive than my wife or I. If there was a competition for most competitive dad, I would not be the winner. Not that it’s inherently wrong to be competitive of course, but the danger when it comes to being a competitive parents is that it leads to pushiness, pushing your child to do well at activities so you can show them off, or their achievements, rather than because the child is genuinely interested.

So talented she can play two instruments at once
So talented she can play two instruments at once

I don’t think we’ll end up being too pushy, except perhaps in one area, music. In many interviews, musicians say that they became interested in music because there was always music playing in their homes growing up. My wife and I admitted to each other that we had both been trying to play lots of music around our daughter at least partially in the hope that it would make her more likely to take an interest in music. We’d both love her to become a musician, myself because I never had the talent and my wife because she never had the opportunity as a child , but we’ll have to make sure that we don’t push into doing, for example, piano lessons if she doesn’t want to.

We recently watched a documentary on Nina Simone, who spent hours and hours every day as a child on the piano. This made for a great talent, but not a happy childhood.¬†When it comes to our daughter I hope we’ll always choose her happiness ahead of pushing her to be ‘the best’. Many people see life as a competition, and their childrens’ supposed successes or failures as a means of judging whether they are winning. Let us never become those people.

LarabeeUK