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How Swimming Lessons Went for Me When I Was a Child

July 29th, 2010

They had lessons at one of the neighborhood high schools, so my mom signed me up. They wouldn’t let the parents in the building. This aggravated her. They yelled at us a lot, then they made us all go off the diving board before we were ready.

“Sink or swim!” — credo of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s

I was terrified. So they stuck out a long metal pole and told me to hold onto it and jump. I don’t remember what happened after that. I might have drowned for all I know. Oh, wait… here I am. I might have sunk to the bottom like a stone and needed mouth-to-mouth. I might have swam like a fish and learned my side-breathing. Oh, wait… I still can’t stick my face into the water and do the side-breathing and swim laps, no, it freaks me out. I love water aerobics, cuz the ladies all wear funny swim caps and it’s good exercise. I can swim okay, but don’t try getting me near a diving board. Also my dad had a sad, horrible death that involved water and honestly? I am proud of myself for even being near water, alrighty? Alrighty!

I write this today because here is the thing you never find out about parenthood ’til it’s too late — you can really be traumatized by it. Seriously. Both of my kids are swimming great, doing their side-breathing, one of them is flinging her body off the diving board and from the end of the pool into 12-foot water with so much reckless abandon that it takes my breath away. She also got invited into Black Belt Club with taekwondo, which doesn’t mean she’s a black belt yet, but means they want her out there sparring cuz she has that certain je nais se quoi. (And yes I spelled that almost exactly right without even looking. See? Talents of my own.) My reaction to her invite was, Wow, okay, Mommy needs to have a nice stiff drink then we’ll talk about that, okay? (and I wrote out a check to the studio for her sparring gear.) (her teacher: “I’ll custom build it myself, it will rock, she’ll love it.”)

Meanwhile, I’m by the side of the pool, hyperventilating. And when they ask me, after each and every lesson, Mom, did you see that? I’m all, Yes! goodjobsweetieniceworkwhewwwww…

Seriously. Seriously!!! Everything I know about parenting you could stick on the head of a pin and still have room left over for the Pledge of Allegiance.


— wm

edited later to say: Just had a little chat with my girl.

me: “Black belt does not mean weapons, you know.” (I saw the note on the board at school last night that said, Black belts purchase your swords now!)

Wacky Girl, cheerful and full of glee: “No, but it means you can have weapons.”



  1. Dan Hortsch says

    What an extraordinarily well written piece. You had me with every sentence. Truly. I went to the “water” link and didn’t find what I expected, but I loved your thoughts about the various people — way back in 2007 — on the MAX. I was kind of sorry that the restaurants really were at that stop when you were asked if that is where they were and you said “yes” but would have said “yes” anyway.
    As for swimming: I could never do it. Period. My body tightened up; I felt a huge pressure on my chest as if I could not breathe. I later learned that a genetic bone structure issue — my sternum — is likely a good part of the reason (lungs did not develop to the usual capacity). That made me feel better, not that I ever felt bad, really. Last time I was on the water in a potentially dangerous situation, in a canoe, I wore a just-purchased life vest and felt fine. As long as I was on top of the water in a canoe.

    July 29th, 2010 | #

  2. Dan Hortsch says

    P.S. I should have said: Great parenting! Really. Yes, we don’t know much, but between observation, instinct (well, maybe a little instinct) and, if we were fortunate, subconscious and conscious memories of our own parents’ ways, we manage.
    Years ago I wrote in a column that rearing children well is a combination of smart moves and dumb luck. I was pleased at that line, then, and I still think it is true.

    July 29th, 2010 | #

  3. Dan Hortsch says

    Sorry. One more. I would never excuse anyone for cruelty to children, of course, but I do feel for very young parents who have not had any real experience in seeing or being on the receiving end of good parenting. Even those who have had a decent upbringing could use help in being a thoughtful and aware parent. Sometimes their lack of patience and understanding ends up fatal or with injuries, literally. Of course, anger management issues (and maybe drugs etc.) also are a part of such horrible situations. Years ago, a powerful Republican in the Oregon House, suggested a plan that would provide for helping young parents being more aware; he suggested that schools would be an obvious community base for such services and related services. Some people saw it as government control of people’s lives, telling them how to live. In today’s atmosphere, the criticism would be greater still. Okay. Outta here.

    July 29th, 2010 | #

  4. Wacky Mommy says

    Dan, thank you!!!

    July 29th, 2010 | #

  5. Wacky Mommy says

    ps — “Rearing children well is a combination of smart moves and dumb luck.” Yes. Everyday. My mom would probably add, Even after they’re grown and out of the house.

    July 29th, 2010 | #

  6. edj says

    I remember those long poles too! All I could think about was crashing my teeth out on it! And why did they want me to dive? I did not want to dive!
    And my kids amaze me too! Where do they get this fearlessness from?

    July 30th, 2010 | #

  7. Nan says

    I was a total fish, and so are my kids… two of them swam before they walked… so I’m always surprised when people don’t like swimming. But there ARE other things I’m hopeless at! I have learned how to ride a bike, but I’m nervous and fall off ALL THE TIME. Very, very embarrassing.

    July 30th, 2010 | #

  8. LIB says

    That’s great that you are able to not pass you fear/anxiety onto your kids. My dad and auntie’s mom did that. And they, in turn, did it to me.

    I wanted to stop the cycle, so had Ali & Toria in classes from ‘Goldfish’ on. As an adult Ali has thanked me for that–saying how much she enjoys swimming and is glad I started her early.

    It’s so nice when your grown kids come back and tell you that you did a good job–makes you think all the blood, sweat and tears were worth it!

    July 30th, 2010 | #

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