This summer I had to take a page from my own book. I’ve always said, with passion, as a parent it’s your duty to teach your kid how to swim and ride a bike before they are six. If you wait to teach them it gets so hard, dangerous and exhausting.
Little kids believe in magic and in a parent’s unquestionable power. So, when you tell a three year old they can float…they believe you…and they do it. Tell a twenty year old who is flailing in the water “you can float” their brain jumps up and says…”no you can’t dummy, you weigh 130 pounds you’re gonna sink and drowned.”
Over the years I’ve taught Sandor, who is ten, to swim, but not as thoroughly as I should. Last weekend when we made our first trip to the lake he ran ahead of me and threw himself off a dock. There were waves, there wasn’t a ladder, the water was colder than he expected. He panicked and by the time I got to the dock he was clinging to a cross bar. I hauled him out and started yelling at myself.
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Sandor now knows something that’s important. Don’t jump in till you know how to get out. This weekend we went to the YMCA and I made him prove to me he could still swim. I watched him do the crawl down the pool. He floated on his back and I made him tread water for a couple of minutes. It’s not pretty but it’s good enough.
Poor kids and country kids are at a disadvantage when it comes to swimming, I think. They grow up playing around in creeks with water that’s only waist high, so they don’t really learn to swim. Their parents don’t take them to swim classes because they aren’t members of the Country Club. They don’t have boats or lake houses with docks either so never learn to swim.
I was a lucky kid and grew up on the lake. One night in October my mom was hosting a cocktail party. I was dressed up in a Sunday dress with tights and little heels. My father, whom I adored, and I were walking along the boardwalk to a neighbors house when he suddenly kicked me into the cold black lake. The water was so cold I gasped as I went under and swallowed a bunch of water. But I bobbed back to the surface, swam to a ladder and climbed out.
Furious, terrified and shivering, I stormed through the cocktail party slinging water on the laughing guests. My dress was ruined, my shows were ruined, my hair was ruined and I was a humiliated six year old. I was mad at him for a week. And to this day, people who were at the party still tease me about my soggy and hysterical stomp through the living room.
Daddy said he did it because he had to make sure I knew how to get out of the lake, under any circumstances.
If somebody did that to one of my children I would absolutely explode. But I almost understand his reasoning and motives, now. Still his delivery in teaching “life skills” could use some work.