Hope Floats

Joshua has been enrolled in swim classes for the last three months. We live next to a lake, so getting the boys proficient in swimming really isn’t up for debate. Joshua is not what one would call a natural swimmer, despite having (at the age of 4) a natural swimmer’s physique. He has gigantic feet for his age*, broad shoulders, long limbs and fingers, and negative body fat (seriously; my kid is CUT). By anatomy alone, he ought to be gliding through the water like a speedboat. Instead, he flounders in the water like a… um… flounder? Ok, I’m going to try to stay away from fish similes; it’s for the best.

He took the beginning course (the YMCA’s “Pike” level) three times before finally advancing. This course is really as beginner as it gets, designed for pre-school age children whose closest experience to swimming is bathing. His first lesson was ok, mostly spent clinging to the wall and the instructor, with one nervous “jump-in” (exactly what it sounds like) to punctuate the session. The second lesson, however, was a bit more angst-filled.

Joshua, now knowing that — dread of dreads — his face was going to get wet, began the day of the lesson telling me that he did not want to go to swim class. Joshua gets up around 8:15 am. His swim class is at 6:15 pm. He spent every one of those 10 hours detailing for me the many things he would rather do than go to his swim class (most of those things were playing). At the class itself, Joshua began yelling at me. Like most busy indoor pools full of children, the noise level is similar to listening to a bugler inside your car, so I initially thought that Joshua’s volume choice was a practical one. Oh, how I overestimated the 4-year old’s pragmatism. As I was seated about ten feet from him, only a moderately raised voice would have sufficed. Instead, Joshua was shouting for me, eventually with tears, so much so that the lifeguard twice came over to ensure that he wasn’t having some sort of Problem. I finally asked Joshua why he was yelling. His response, equal parts heartbreaking and hysterical, perfectly sums up his myriad and colorful neuroses:


He made it through the class, once more getting his face wet. Mine was a little wet, too. C’est la vie.

The next eleven weeks or so improved greatly. One would hope so in repeating a class twice. By the time Joshua began his third go-round of learning how not to drown, he was a star next to the other shrieking, sobbing children afraid of water. Now a proud, if still reluctant, member of the “Eel” class, Joshua has moved past not drowning to moving-awkwardly-while-not-drowning. I’ve never been prouder.

Swim classes for young children are fascinating to watch. The budding personalities in various states of fear and self-doubt, the clumsy churning of water, the instructors repeating their requests with divine patience as their charges’ attention flits between them and the everything else going on around them.** The YMCA has been the gold standard in teaching youngin’s to swim for many years now. I am one of many people able to get from one end of the pool to the other without dying thanks to my parents’ membership at the Y. They really do know how to work with very young children. Just tonight, the instructor of Joshua’s class managed to wrangle a troublesome student (who will someday be diagnosed with ADHD to make his parents feel less like they failed) simply by having him sit on the side of the pool while the other kids in the class were learning things. It’s classroom management 101, but doing it on the fly, in what could be a pretty dangerous environment, with helicopter parents helicopter-parenting everywhere is downright impressive.

Beyond the fundamentals of cat herding involved, the instructors actually manage to deliver skills to the kids. Joshua began his swim classes unwilling to put his face in the water and unable to do so without breathing that water. Now he voluntarily ducks his head under without inhaling the chlorinated mix of water and children’s pee that fills your average pool, all while kicking his feet and having an awareness that he should call 911 if someone is drowning, hurt, or on fire (they actually teach this in swim class; apparently calling 911 is better for a burning person than just shoving him in the pool). I’m excited for the day when he and I can go to the pool together and just play. At this rate, I think he’ll probably be ready by next spring or summer. Nice timing, that.

Several years ago, I took Joshua to an infant swim “class,” also offered by the Y. I paid money for this, and it’s the only time in my history with the gym that I’ve regretted doing so. I’m not sure whose idea this class was. For an institution so well-respected for its swimming instruction, to offer a swim “class” for “swimmers” who can barely crawl on dry land*** seems like a cavalier dispensation of their reputation to something that probably got cooked up by some at-home parents with more time (and hormones) than sense. Trust me, I’m an at-home parent. You spend enough days as a prisoner in your own home, and you’ll seize almost any opportunity to get out and do something different, especially if you can pass it off as Bonding.**** During this “class,” I held Joshua in various positions as he did nothing more than get wet. I could have accomplished the same thing in our bathtub for about $25 less. I asked the instructor afterward what the point of these “classes” is. She did her best to repeat whatever company lines she’d memorized, but she also added that, in the best-case scenario, all an infant gets out of it is being less afraid of the water.

As Joshua’s three attempts at getting through Pike should demonstrate, he is not the best-case scenario in the pool.

*We’re hoping he’ll grow into his feet like a puppy does. More likely, in the words of my dad, “If he’s lucky, he’ll grow up to be short.”

**These things also describe the Aquarobics for Seniors class that meets at the same time.

***The phrase “dry land” perplexes me, not for the differentiation between it and “wet land,” i.e., the bottom of a lake or ocean, but because the phrase is almost always used in conjunction with activities that can’t actually be done on “wet land.” You often hear about how happy cruise ship travelers are to be “back on dry land,” as if their shuffleboard games and midnight buffets were somehow being hosted 10,000 meters below the surface. How any of this relates to “wetlands” is unknown to me.

****During the first few months of your kid’s life, when he’s essentially a living paperweight for you to carry around and clean regularly, everyone and everything encourages you to “bond” with your baby. Keep in mind that any bonding you choose to do will involve you holding him and supporting his head so it doesn’t come off or something. Good luck.


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