The other day, I asked my youngest granddaughter if she wanted to learn how to swim this summer. She said she did, but was afraid she’d sink if she tried to lie in the water—which reminded me of her father when he was a little boy.
My daughter could swim but my son was deathly afraid of water, to the point that I couldn’t convince him to lie back in the tub to get his hair washed (I didn’t cut it until he was four, but that’s another story). When he was six, we moved into an apartment complex that had not one but three pools (wading, eight feet, and eighteen feet). Of course he wanted to go to the pool with his friends, so I bought an inflatable ring and took him to the pool. We got into the shallow end of the eight-foot pool and I convinced him to put the ring around his waist and let me hold him prone in the water. I walked him back and forth across the shallow end of the pool, encouraging him to kick his feet and pull himself forward with his arms.
We did this for three days; and not looking forward to spending everyday of the summer in water, on the third day I decided to test him on his own. We got into the shallow end, and I walked him across and back again. Then I let him go and watched him swim to the other end. When he got to the other side he held on and turned to look for me. When he saw me at the other end he asked me what I was doing over there. I proudly told him I was watching him swim. He was proud of himself but not yet sure he wanted me to leave him there. I stayed that day, watching him become sure of himself.
The next day when all the other kids went to the pool he went too but came home less than an hour later. He had scraped his inflatable ring on the concrete and had a hole in it. I tried to patch it but it didn’t work very well. We went to the drugstore and since they were on sale for only a dollar each, I brought him six more. From that point on all I had to do was keep a supply of rings for him and he and his sister were content to stay at the pool everyday from twelve to six o’clock. I loved this arrangement: there were lifeguards at the pool, it was only open to residents, and in those days it was safe to leave your kids outside. There were always parents there too, and someone would always look out for mine while I slept (I was working nights).
This worked out fine until the middle of the summer. Though I constantly bought inflatable rings for him, my son always managed to scrape a hole into them. By the middle of August they were no longer in the stores so when he scraped a hole into his last one, I told him he would have to stay in the kiddie pool. He went and never said anything else about it.
Then one day towards the end of the summer, my son said “Ma! You should come and see me swim!” Knowing his fear of water, I surmised he must be crawling on the bottom of the kidding pool thinking he was really swimming. I was tired and had barely been able to stay awake until the pool opened but promised I would come by later. I took a quick nap and set out for the pool as promised.
The pools had a huge fence around them and from our apartment, you had to walk around the fence near the eighteen foot pool to the entrance near the kiddie pool. I was walking near past the diving boards at the eighteen-foot pool when I heard my son call me. I looked up and to my horror saw him at the top of the high ladder poised to jump off the diving board. Before I could shout get down he dove (later, after I got my heart out of my throat and back into my chest I realized it was a nice dive) and I didn’t wait to see him land.
I took off running, feeling every cigarette I had ever smoked and trying desperately to remember what I had learned from the life guard rescue class I had taken and never used as a teen. (I think everybody should learn how to swim and took this test after I tried to save my sister in a neighborhood pool and she almost drowned us both. Needless to say, that is another story.)
It seemed like it took me forever to get around the fence and inside to the eighteen-foot pool. As I ran, I spotted the young lifeguard leaning against the fence talking his heart out to a girl his age. In my panic I ran up to him and pushed him in the chest. “Bryant! You’re standing here hitting on this girl and my son is drowning!” By then I was out of breath and seriously doubting my own ability to save my son. Startled, Bryant was instantly alert, looking around for someone in trouble. “Who?” he asked puzzled. I had my back to the pool and as I shouted my son’s name at the lifeguard I turned to look for my son. Bryant repeated my son’s name. “Shoot, he’s one of my best swimmers. I don’t even make him take the test (to swim in the eighteen foot pool)!” It was at this time that I saw my son, easily swimming to the end of the pool. When he ran up to me and asked, I sheepishly admitted I had missed his dive, apologized to Bryant, and since I had on clothes, stood outside the fence to watch him do it again.
And it tugged at my heart to see my child, who had been so afraid of water I was forced to wash his hair in sections with shampoo on a washcloth, swimming confidently in the eighteen-foot pool (which I don’t even have the nerve to do). As he grew into manhood, whenever my son had doubts, I always reminded him of what he had done when he was only six and told him if you can do that, you can do anything you set you mind to doing. Now it seems I would be coaxing his daughter into learning to swim.
So today, I am making a note to get inflatable rings for my granddaughter for when the neighborhood pool opens. Here we go again.