Posted by: laughs4dads | November 8, 2010

Sink or Swim

For some reason, families who live in the suburbs and who have average household incomes or better think it is extremely important that their infants learn to swim.

I’m not sure why this is.  Certainly, swimming is not one of your essential career-oriented abilities, unless your goal is to be a lifeguard.  It’s not like anybody’s going to be thinking, sixteen years from now, “Oh, my, Johnny could have gotten into Harvard if only we’d taught him how to swim.”

Nevertheless, there are thousands of miniature Esther Williamses and Michael Phelpses in this country, thanks to hundreds of programs designed to help the little ones, um, get their feet wet.

Wisdom has it that there is no time like infancy to teach human beings how to swim.  Parents are told that babies still have fond memories of dog paddling around in the womb and that they haven’t yet learned the concept of fear.  Presumably, kids should be taught to swim before they see “Jaws” on television.

While there are some fanatics who go to the YMCA every morning and wear goggles and swim back and forth for hours and tell you that swimming is the best exercise if you don’t mind wrinkled skin, my personal opinion is that an otherwise well-adjusted person can get along fine in life without knowing how to swim.  Most of us, even if we do know how, tend to spend our lives hanging out by the shallow end of the pool anyway, or lying on big rafts with beers in our hands. 

However, my opinion about the need for swimming lessons was ignored by my wife.  (This is, by the way, a fate that still befalls many of my opinions.)  Casey was enrolled in a toddler swim class at our local YMCA.

I had the occasion to accompany Casey to class one morning.  The class consisted of the parents propelling their infants through the water in a variety of ways, such as frontwards, backwards and suspended by a stick.  Casey held on to this stick as one might cling to the edge of a cliff, and she had this look on her face as if she were saying, “You know what you heard about my not yet learning how to be afraid?  Well it’s bull, daddy.”

Next, the children were lined up on the side of the pool and instructed to jump into their parents’ arms.  I watched as Casey’s friend Benjamin played this game wherein he treated the pool like a soccer goal and his mother, Rory, like a goalie and his aim was to score.  He stood on the edge and tried to fake Rory into committing herself towards the left, then he jumped right attempting, apparently, to avoid her desperate lunging grab.  Meanwhile, Casey squatted until she could put her arms around my shoulders and gently lowered herself into the water.  A daredevil she was not.

When the swimming pool in our condo development opened for the summer, Casey immediately demonstrated that her swimming class had given her bounds of aquatic confidence by sticking her toe in the wading pool, crying, “Cold, cold,” and running off to look for bugs.

Later, we introduced her to water wings.  These are rubber things that you inflate on your baby’s arms.  They allowed Casey to float by herself, and she learned to use her legs as propellers so that if we turned around for a second, we’d find Casey treading water in the center of the pool screaming, “Svimming!  Casey svimming!”  (Her favorite pastime at the park was going on the “svings.”  To our knowledge, nobody in our family is Swedish, although I have a cousin that makes good meatballs.)

Anyway, to recap, Casey, like thousands of other two-year olds, could be kept afloat by means of orange balloons wrapped around her arms.  It seems to me that swim classes were not entirely necessary in order to accomplish this. 

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