You always hear those stories, old wives tales perhaps, about parents throwing their kids in the deep end to teach them to swim, or lighting them a Marlboro to discourage smoking.
Stronger than reverse psychology, more reckless than tough love; more like anti-parenting.
This is not one of those stories. This is the simple story of two parents not fearing the reaper, one son too young to know what the reaper is, and a generous aunt with a pool in her back yard. It is a saga laden with baby sunscreen, swim diapers, fresh grapefruit and a whole boatload of tears. I’m calling it “Bub Floats.”
A little over a year ago (back in B.C. bliss), we were out in L.A. visiting my wife’s family. She has an aunt, a jill-of-many-trades—she makes greeting cards, teaches piano and, as luck would have it, swimming lessons to kids. We had asked her (more out of general curiosity than anything) how young a tyke she would throw in her pool and were astounded to hear six months, her motto being ‘You’ve got to swim before you can crawl.’ Dually noted, wheels turning like a runaway freight train.
Fast forward to present day. We are back in L.A., parading the baby around like the Stanley Cup to all the family members, and it just so happens to be swim lesson season. We are cordially invited to bring Bub over for a lesson or two. All we needed was some sunscreen, a towel and something called swim diapers, which until that very moment, I never knew existed. They are pretty much as you might imagine, a weird hybrid of diaper and tidy-whities.
I must admit I had pretty high expectations for the lad. We’ve spent many an hour in the tub (essentially, a mini-pool) and he enjoys the water, and has recently started interacting with it, i.e. slapping it silly. He also has very strong legs and enjoys kicking them at anything in sight, or nothing at all. That’s half of swimming, right? Okay, I wasn’t expecting him to be shaming Michael Phelps by the end of the first lesson, but a couple solid laps didn’t seem out of the question.
He had quite the crowd for his first lesson—family members, fellow swimmers, general curious on-lookers. Now I use the word lesson in the most liberal sense of the word. Bub might, if he had the capacity for complex speech patterns, argue that it was an exercise in torture. If it were a lesson in how to cry while holding your head above water, then I’d say he nailed it. Crowd goes wild, tens all around. Otherwise, you might diplomatically call it a bumpy introduction to self-propelled aquatic navigation.
Undaunted, not wanting all those tears to be in vain, we took him back for round two the next day. He did much better. Cried at first, then mellowed. Got a little too mellow, fell asleep somewhere mid-backstroke. In his defense, it was a beautiful day, warm pool, in friendly arms, etc. It was an honest mistake, could happen to anyone. His final report card showed him at above average for his age group, which I interpreted to mean he undercried the competition. The nap kind of padded his stats, but whatever. My son is a swimmer. He swims now. Watch your back, Phelps.