Friday, April 23, 2010

Swimming Lessons

Ivy practices her self-directed bubble blowing technique, with admiring audience, as always.

April column for Practical Parenting Magazine

‘May you have an interesting life, ’goes the old Chinese curse. Or, alternatively, could I suggest: ‘May you have a theatrical daughter.’ Like a drunken executive at the work Christmas party, three-year-old Ivy can add the thrill of drama to the most mundane occasion.

Last week we started swimming lessons. I was a little nervous when I saw the sign ‘Nursery of Champions’ at the door, and the banner ‘No Crying! Just Trying!’ I’m your typical new-century mother: organic spinach lollipops and chemical-free chemicals all the way. Big John from swimming school was more of a suck-it-up, this-is-how-we-did-things-in-Nam, save-the-drama-for-your-mama type.

At intensive swimming school, kids go every day for a week. For the first two days, Ivy was a scream. With her goggles on awkwardly (‘I haffa do it myself!’), she squinted up at Big John as he swam her across the pool, flirtatiously discussing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang while he suppressed a smile and said ‘Stop talking, Ivy! Blow bubbles!’

Her two classmates were less dramatic in temperament. They practiced, and listened, and slowly they began to swim. Ivy, instead, used her energy to initiate conversation with Big John about her outfit or to paddle ‘her own way.’ By Day 3, she’d had enough.

‘I’m not going under that water, John!’ she shouted suddenly, and began to wail. Over the next two days, lessons degenerated. As John crossed the pool, there was no talk of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Instead, Ivy clutched his neck and begged him, like a daytime soap starlet, ‘don’t let go of me John, please hold me, hold me, hold me…’

Watching, it took all my strength not to snatch her up out of the pool and run to the car. I had to remind myself that this was the same child who could summon an Oscar-worthy portrayal of distress if I dropped her special spoon. And who often flung herself across my lap, fake-coughing and moaning ‘I’m sick, Mumma, very, very sick. I haffa need a Wiggles band-aid.’

The terrible climax came on Day 4 when it came time for the tiny swimmers to jump off the side and under the water so Big John could pluck them out. Ivy refused, point-blank. ‘Come on, Mum,’ said Big John impatiently. I unwound my small daughter from my legs and held her over the pool. Took a breath. And. Dropped. Her. In.

In bed that night, Ivy and I discussed the day’s events. ‘Mummy, you did throw me in the pool, ‘she said. ‘Yes, honey,’ I replied, ‘that’s engraved pretty deep on Mummy’s brain too.’ Ivy looked me deep in the eye. ‘I did think to punching you in the mouth today, Mum,’ she said.

In the end, Big John and his Nursery of Champions didn’t stand a chance next to my small daughter and her whim of iron. If she was going to swim, she’d swim on her own terms. A day or two after lessons ended, she began wearing her goggles at the dinner table, obsessively blowing bubbles in the bath and announcing ‘I’m a swimmer!’ to anybody who crossed her path. No leftover trauma for this child. It’s Mum that’s left with the psychological scars. I’m not scared of swimming. But I might cry if I had to enter that Nursery of Champions again.


  1. Bless that little daughter of yours. Man, I love this kid and I've never met her.

    Go Ivy – you ARE a swimmer!

    Big John haff met his match.

  2. Ah you tell a good story Mogantosh!
    Made me chuckle.

    We booked an hour long session in a private pool this week.

    She spent about 2 mins in the pool, the other 58 shivering and wailing wet on the side.

    ...and back in the car on the way home proclaims "I love (wuv) swimming"


  3. Am kinda glad that swimming's not such a priority here in Switzerland after reading about Big John. Will let you know how the first skiing lessons go with Big Jean-Claude though...


Thanks for talking to me. I don't got cooties. Oh, except for when I got cooties.