Saturday Stories: Swimming

My mom was not allowed to swim when she was a child.   Because her brothers and sisters had died by the time she was eleven, her parents clamped down on all “dangerous” activities.  Mom wasn’t allowed to hike, camp, ride horses or swim.  When she started dating, she wasn’t allowed to go out with a boy who drove.  The boy’s father had to drive them anywhere that they went.  When Mom married Dad, she still could not swim.  It was when Dad invited her to come over to Thailand to stay while he was flying during the Vietnam War that she finally learned to swim.  That was only because Dad told her that none of the wives could come over if they couldn’t swim.  It was less than truthful, but it worked.  Mom went to the YMCA for four weeks, learning to tread water, put her face in the water, float on her back and do the side stroke.  She was never a strong swimmer, but at least she could hold her own.

Dad, on the other hand, was an experienced swimmer.  He learned to swim so long ago, he cannot even remember the circumstances.  He probably went to the local swimming hole with his friends and started with the dog paddle.  He went on to attend Boy Scout camp many times and earned the merit badges associated with water.  Later, during summer between his sophomore and junior years at college, he worked as a lifeguard and swimming instructor at a lake.    When he was certifying to become a lifeguard, he had to rescue a pretend drowning victim.  The “victim” was a huge guy who was a linebacker on a college football team.  The guy was really good drowner.  He climbed all over the rescuer, doing his best to simulate the panic a drowning victim would feel.  Well, my dad reached out and grabbed that big guy by the hair under his arm and Wham! he instantly became docile enough for dad to bring him to shore.

My mom wanted me to learn to swim as early as possible.  When we went to Thailand the first time, I was three.  My parents put me in the pool and taught me the basics.   I swam everyday during both of our stays in Asia.  Then, for whatever reason, I stopped.  I didn’t take lessons again until I was in third grade.  I started the red cross beginner class.  For some reason, though, when I went to the next level, advanced beginners, I just couldn’t put my head in the water to blow bubbles.  Mom used to fill the kitchen sink and make me practice, but there was some mental block that prevented me from getting it.  I told mom I had to quit lessons.    Mom told me that if I was going to be a quitter, I had to go to the teacher myself and tell him I was doing so.    That was a strong lesson that stayed with me.  I don’t think I ever quit anything again after that. Later, I went through a YMCA course and made it all the way through.  I relearned to love swimming and went on to become a life guard and swimming instructor myself in between years at college.

My children love water.  My boys spent their young years in Western Washington state, a land filled with rivers, lakes and of course, pools.  My oldest son went to a swimming preschool.  Each class was divided between a regular classroom and swimming lessons.  The next two boys loved swimming, too.  My youngest, however, had two harrowing experiences that caused him to be afraid of the water for a long time.  When he was about eighteen months old, he let go of my hand near a pool and ran off the deep end of the pool.  I was chasing him and went right in after him.  He sputtered and was whisked out of the water really fast.  About a year or so later, we were at a pool again as a family and he did almost the exact same thing.  He remembered that last time and began to fear the water.  I put him in lessons, but had to practically sit on the side of the pool to keep him from getting back out and running from the water.  Eventually, he grew enough to be able to touch the bottom of the shallower end and was able to overcome his fears.   These days, he wake boards and  swims and does all sorts of other things, just like his older brothers.    He still remembers those years of being afraid, but it’s a long distant memory.

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