The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, August 11, 2006

Two Esmés--with Love and Squalor

By Anne Chudobiak

It starts with a mistake.

You miss pre-registration at the Y.

God forbid you should miss pre-registration.

No swimming classes for Esme, your four-year-old.

What kind of parent are you?

Unless there is somewhere else, somewhere better.

Classes every morning, 8 o’clock, outdoors, with teachers who refuse to acknowledge the weather: “Is it raining? I didn’t notice.”

There are no floaties at your new pool. Children actually swim, which is amazing, quite unheard of where you come from. You are the proudest mother in the change room, the first session.

And then there is the problem with the diving board.

“She has no depth perception,” you tell the new teacher. “Her eyes.”

“That’s okay,” she says. “I’ll help her.”

But Esme only gets more and more terrified.

You hide behind your sunglasses as she wrestles her teacher and screams.

“Can you take her tomorrow?” you ask your husband when you get home.

He looks disgusted. The message is clear. This is your thing.

So you use the time to practice yogic breathing. Who cares how much you paid, what trouble you went to, to have your child walk around, wrapped in a noodle, while all of the other kids, some of them younger, mind you, kamikaze into the water? Really. Not a problem. Until.

Esme--your little “I not a fish, I a mermaid,”--says that she doesn’t want to swim, not anymore.

That’s when you remember.

The Y.

There is a class. It’s not her level--too easy--but you paid full price so that you’d “qualify”--for pre-registration. Fall is the most competitive season.

You weren’t going to send her, but why not? She’ll be the ringer; it’ll boost her self-esteem.

You can watch from the side, pretend that she’s a natural, that she gets it from you.

“Esme,” you tell the lifeguard with the clipboard the first afternoon.

“Armando,” she says, pointing.

A boy?

Tears. A tantrum.

Armando invites you and another parent to drag your children to the shallow end. Your kid is screaming the loudest, but Armando wins her over and she is the first to get in. The other one is more persistent. She is opposed to swimming teachers in general, male or female. Her name is Esmé, too. From Salinger, but in translation. The French Esmé has black hair with golden roots. She looks elegant in her yellow suit. You have met other Esmés before, but they are always older and often British.

French Esmé watches from the side--she is weeping--as Armando chases after your daughter who is swimming away faster than you can imagine: “Esme, come back. You forgot your floaties.”

French Esmé’s father is sitting beside you, but you can’t look at him hugging his knees and feeling small. You want to tell him that you understand--that your daughter did the exact same thing that very morning--but there is no way to do it without coming across as a total weirdo.

Better to keep your mouth shut and your eyes on the water.

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Blogger craig said...

This brings back a lot of memories for me - one of my daughters did well and eventually became a lifeguard, but years later.
She was a clinger to the side from the start.

Also of the Esmés I've known in my life - yes, they are usually British it seems.
Thanks for this, Anne.

Fri Aug 11, 01:29:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

This is great. I like the mixture of shame and redemption in this post. Beautiful.

Fri Aug 11, 11:22:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger sass said...

brought back memories of when i was sent off to swimming lessons - the days when mothers didn't watch from the sidelines, and when i had to bike to the pool those freezing mornings - and i clung to the side of the pool in the deep end. my teacher, dot, would come and step on my fingers to make the cllinging stop (and drowning begin)...

but it paid off. i'm often the only one who can get past 6 foot waves in the ocean. there i am, screaming to my male friends, "come in! why won't you come out here?"

Sat Aug 12, 01:36:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

what is it about these things that reduces us, to , well, weirds thinking we are the only ones having these thoughts?? this is great, you have sooo nailed it, the feeling continues, through hockey and skating lessons and the dreaded concert at school...we all survive and are proud as we should be, of ourselves too..xoxoxo

Sat Aug 12, 04:17:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I had a lump in my throat reading this, Anne. I've been there.

Sun Aug 13, 10:50:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Anne, this is terrific. I related to the whole thing especially the hope that she'd be a star in the lower level! Yes, boy teachers...that can be tricky :)

Mon Aug 14, 03:12:00 pm GMT-4  

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