If I ever find myself in some sort of tv-quiz-show-tiebreaker-situation and I’m asked to sum up the trials and tribulations of parenting in two words, I have already prepared my series winning answer: swimming lessons.
Having spent most Saturday mornings ‘poolside’ for the last four years, I see many moments that are mini metaphors for my less than perfect maternal efforts looking after two reluctant tadpoles the rest of the time.
I think back a few years to when we told our nearest and dearest we were expecting and very soon there was a question on which nursery they are booked into (Sorry? You DON’T have your unborn child on the waiting list already?). The pressure to be ‘ahead of the game’ starts early and as far as I can see, continues for the next 18 yrs. This means quite a bunfight to get a place on the pre-schoolers swimming class as soon as your little one has mastered the art of not wetting themselves in public. A more successful approach would have been to wait till a time when their attention span is longer than an episode of Hey Duggee. But hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
After enrolment comes the choice of superhero trunks/luminous colour hat/techno goggles/all-in-one dinosaur towelling robe that can be critical in peer approval stakes – the parent peer approval stakes that is. Anything too glitzy for them/ too old for them/ too teeny for them/ too suggestive you go on holiday ALL THE TIME for them raises an eyebrow from the viewing gallery. Who’d have thought choosing a swimming costume could be quite so high risk? It’s like the unisex biodegradable changing bag dilemma all over again.
As with parenting in general, we may recall swimming lessons of our childhood so fondy we hope to recreate similar memories for our children. Only we falsely remember the hilarious malarkey of learning to swim in our dad’s pyjamas, when actually it was all verruca socks, embarrassment and cold open changing rooms.
Every swimming level my oldest child progresses through feels like another chapter of “How to parent your child” nailed. Even if it takes 2 years for each one. But each week my youngest spends more time outside the pool and it feels like we are back to chapter one of that book. Or even the prologue. How to continue to be the supportive and loving parent you want to be when your child’s poor behaviour is commanding all the attention of his class teacher, the adjacent class teacher, the lifeguard and all other parents in the viewing gallery, is the chapter I want to read next.
The speed at which you can sink from dizzy heights of parental pride to parental shame, is a phenomenon all parents know, isn’t it? When the nursery teacher tells you your son has managed to write his own name for the first time, you smile broadly. Only to find out he’d written it on someone else’s arm in permanent marker pen so you have to fill out an accident form and apologise profusely to the child’s mother at pick up. But back to the poolside shenanigans. One minute, your little darling manages to blow bubbles fearlessly in the water only to then escape the teacher’s gaze for a moment and soon be seen testing the integrity of the fire exit the next.
We have tried all sorts – positive reinforcement, practice sessions, bribery, iPad restrictions, chocolate. Shamefully, I even uttered the words, “I’ll give you 50p if you just get IN THE WATER”, last week. Even the super expensive swimming hat that promised to be water resistant for life hasn’t helped. I think in fact it has made him water-repellent.
How I wish another episode of norovirus might save me from next weeks trial by swimming lesson. But these days will not last forever and one day I might even be nostalgic for them. Each jump, each dive, each width swum is a tiny step they take forward in their life, towards independence and a 500m badge.
Best get my sewing machine down from the loft. And there’s another blog piece just waiting to be written. The Christmas Present of Eternal Optimism and Patchwork Quilts.