I have always disliked swimming.
Show me a warm, soothing sea and I’ll happily bob around in it all day; floating for hours as the sun warms my face, diving down to pick shells from the sandy seafloor, and emerging occasionally for a piña colada and another chapter of my book.
But lengths of a pool? Proper swimming? I hate it.
There are too many terrible memories of school swimming lessons, where I never progressed beyond a flailing, spluttering doggy paddle in the shallow end. I was always that kid who, on the walk back to class, curled up with stomach cramps and puked on the pavement because I’d gulped down so much chlorinated water. My cheeks still burn with shame at the memory of a Primary Seven swimming gala where I had to be rescued from the ‘fun’ race – that humiliating spectacle that the non-swimmers had to participate in, clinging to a novelty float and wishing the world would end.
So when DorkySon was still very little – less than six months old – we decided that DorkyDad should be the one to do swimming lessons with him, lest I somehow, subconsciously pass on all those bad feelings. We signed up to Waterbabies, and I sat on the side watching as the two of them ventured into the water for the first time.
It was no use. DorkySon had inherited my aversion to water anyway. He was not taken in by the cooing nursery rhymes that accompanied his dunkings, and he grew less and less happy with every week. By the fourth lesson he was sobbing in his pram before we’d even entered the building. We gave up.
But then, last year on holiday, something changed. Perhaps it was the sunshine, or the relaxed atmosphere of an outdoor pool. Perhaps it was the presence of two kind, encouraging older boys, or perhaps, like with so many other things, DorkySon just decided it was time. We will never know. But some switch was flicked and our sweet little guy decided that swimming was his thing. He pulled on his trunks, clutched his noodle with grim determination, and ten minutes later declared himself a convert.
“I really love swimming,” he said. “It’s so relaxing.”
Now we have moved to Australia, where there is a beach around every corner, and having the ability to stay afloat is a non-negotiable. Every single child here learns to swim – the earlier the better.
So every Thursday afternoon we plod off to the proper pool where DorkySon is learning how to do those laps and lengths that I could never manage. He is the smallest in the class by a good way, and also, unsurprisingly, the palest. He wears a bright blue swimming cap, with matching goggles that he hasn’t quite mastered taking on and off yet. We sit and chat as he waits for the lesson to start, and I can’t help but smile. He is so proud of his laminated swim card, showing that he has already progressed from A1 to A2. He is fascinated by it all – the floats, the flags and flippers, the lane markers and the lifejackets that are hanging on a rack at one end of the pool. He asks me every thirty seconds what time it is, wants to be sure that it will be his turn soon.
When the lesson finally starts, the other parents pull out their books and phones, enjoying half an hour of peace and quiet. But like the very worst soccer mom stereotype, I can’t tear my eyes away from DorkySon. Not because I can offer any constructive criticism, but because I am so overwhelmingly proud. I watch him sitting on the side, grinning and chatting with his classmates. Occasionally he will scan the seats by side of the pool as he looks for me – when he picks me out he gives a big wave and a grin, then his attention returns to the teacher.
The kids all lie on a big blue mat, kicking their legs out behind them. They hold onto noodles and propel themselves forward. I smile as DorkySon lies on his back, pushing that bright white belly up to the ceiling and floating like a leaf on the water. They hold their breath, put their heads under water, monkey crawl along the side, dive for treasure, and jump in to the deep end with big, enthusiastic splashes. In the space of half an hour, I watch my four year old do a dozen things that I know would be beyond me.
When it is over and he comes scuttling along the side – teeth chattering, a pink mark along his hairline from the swim cap – I am waiting with a towel to wrap him up, a carton of juice for him to guzzle down.
Every week, we do this, and I am so happy that he is happy. I am so happy he finds it fun.
My son is a swimmer, and I am his number one fan.