I am a swimmer. I don’t know when my mother first put me in the water, but I’m sure it was when I was a baby. I took lessons each summer until I was old enough to join the swim team. I competed in all the different events, and was on swim team in high school. I was never good enough to swim in college, but I loved it. I loved the smell of chlorine, the weightless way my body seemed to glide through the water, and the quiet of swimming, how I could be in my head, just counting my strokes, and everything else seemed to melt away.
I had hoped I could pass along my love of swimming to J, my five-year-old, but things aren’t working out as I’d planned.
First, we did lessons at the outdoor pool. It was great—zero-depth, he was in water shallow enough that he could stand up, and there were other kids with him, kids who knew what they were doing enough to make J want to copy them. At the end of the two-week session, he got a graduation certificate that said he could move up to the next class (minnow to guppy or something, I know I should remember, but I honestly don’t). We never sent him back. He was three.
The next summer, we tried the Y. We’re members, classes are cheap, there you go. But this time, the water was over his head, he wasn’t confident enough to float even with the instructor holding him up, and he cried for 28 of the 30 minutes of class. I think we attended three of the six sessions before we finally gave up. He was four.
This year I decided I would teach him. I was a lifeguard in high school and I taught swim lessons every morning to 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds. I don’t remember a lot of that time, but what I do remember is that teaching swim lessons was easy. I told the kids to blow bubbles, they blew bubbles. I told them to kick, and they kicked. I told them to hold onto the wall, blow bubbles, and kick, and they did it—no complaining, no crying, no problem. One girl liked me so much she gave me a photo album as a gift at the end of our session. I wish I knew where it was now.
So, J and I got in the water at the Y. I held him up and he kicked. But his kicks were too big, so I told him to tone them down. When we tried floating, he kept sinking, so I told him to hold his belly up. Then I tried to let go of him. BIG mistake. He cried, sputtered, and kicked me in the neck as he dog-paddled over to the wall. What am I forgetting about those tiny 5-year-olds from twenty years ago? They loved me, they did what I asked, and I have nothing but good memories of being a swim teacher. So why can’t I teach my own kid to love swimming like I do?