The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

When it Begins

By Anna McDougall

Sunday morning I wore flip flops – the only acceptable footwear on deck - because I’m not like the relaxed parents at home with bare feet on clammy tiles. I also remembered to dress lightly having anticipated the humid air, but there was no escape from the chlorine stinging my throat.

From the edge of the dive tank, I smiled some encouragement in the direction of my children, but I was unable to shake anxious memories of my own swimming lessons at that age. Slipping into the uncomfortably cool water, I’d stare at those thick black stripes so much deeper than they appeared, but all the same, terrifying and confusing. There were times my imagination would race until I was convinced the unatural teal-colored water (it was never that tone in the lap pool and I still don't know why) was looming to pull me under. So much about swimming is a mystery to me.

My daughter is an attentive student and I’m proud of her for this, but I’m mostly relieved she’s not the very weakest in the class. My son, on the other hand, is a mess of flailing limbs stabbing his chin up and out of the water, rejecting the instructor’s mantra: “everyone floats…just try to relax.”

I’m a reluctant swimmer to say the least, never having mastered the complex breathing technique of the front crawl, but I can get my body across a calm surface if absolutely necessary using my hybrid dog paddle/breast stroke. Honestly though, if I didn’t have children I’d never go near another pool in my life, but I realise swimming is a necessary life skill which is why I insist on the lessons. That my children at least become independent in the water is my hope. It would be wonderful if they learned to love swimming and were like those fearless people who, at the sight of water, strip off their t-shirts and cover-ups and dive in with grace, moving seamlessly between land and sea.

Of course learning to do something and loving it are two entirely different things. Children grow to value that which surrounds them. It is much easier for them to develop passion for something when adults they admire understand it, embrace it, truly enjoy it. Maybe the swimming instructor’s comfortable manner will leave an impression.

Presented with a few moments of free time, I would much rather be curled up with a book. I was tempted to bring one to the pool the other day, but thought better of it. My children need to see what little enthusiasm I can fake. My daughter brought a book to the pool though. Read it the whole car ride only putting it down at the last minute in the change room. She is a book lover and she has begun crafting poems and stories already, no doubt absorbing all the interest in reading and writing that goes on at our house. It takes so little effort for me to model this to her and her siblings, but I want them to be exposed to activities outside my interests too.

When the swim lesson ended, I contained the urge to rush over and press for feedback, coax some encouraging comments from the young man in charge. I didn’t want to be one of those parents.

Three o’clock yesterday, at the kids’ school, I found myself in the middle of one of those uncomfortable discussions between my son’s teacher and another parent. The mother remarked that the school year is nearly over and her son is still not reading. “He tells me that you never ask him to read aloud in class.”

The teacher tried to reassure her. “Not every child learns to read in grade one. You’ll find that one day everything clicks together and he’s off….”

“She’s right,” I said as we walked together through the corridor. “They’re not all reading yet. I’m sure it won’t be long.”

The mother turned to me, “Easy for you to say.”

I blushed. How could I understand her frustration? My own son is at that wonder filled stage where he is beginning to read the signs along the road as we drive. Suddenly he has realised that all those colorful shapes serve a purpose.

We walked out to the playground together and made small talk while the boys raced around.

I said, “What are you reading these days?”

“Read? I wish I had the time.”


Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Anna, thanks so much for the links, especially Giggle Poetry! It's so heart-breaking when they stumble, but so exhilarating when they soar!

Tue May 16, 10:13:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Swimming Lessons! I remember! My mom used to drive my sister and I in her little mini to an outdoor pool every week in the summer. The lifeguard/teachers were so hunky! They seemed incredible- they were probably gangly teenagers, but they seemed like giants among men to me. Blazing teeth, rich tans, rippling muscles, personalities like masculine versions of 'madcap'! My mom's horn didn't work right so my dad jerryrigged it. She had a toggle on the dashboard- on and off. The trick: you could turn it to 'on' when the car wasn't running, and then when my mom turned over the engine the horn would blast into life giving her a heart attack. We always did it. She always fell for it. She always got mad. We always promised never to do it again. But those lifeguards would laugh and wink at us. And that was irresistable!

Tue May 16, 10:34:00 am GMT-4  

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