Swimming, like signing, is something I originally had excellent intentions about introducing Jamie to at an early stage, which didn’t quite come to fruition. Before I had him, I was determined to start taking him swimming from the start so that he could grow up familiar with the water. After I had him, I started thinking about the kind of logistics that don’t really occur to you before you have children (well, they didn’t to me, anyway), such as where you actually put the baby while you’re drying yourself off. On the cold tiled floor? Or do you just go home in your sopping wet swimming costume? Presumably the answer involves bringing a car seat into the changing rooms, but I couldn’t figure out what I’d do with it after that – wouldn’t it be too big to fit in a locker?
Given the number of people who do take their babies swimming, I think it’s a reasonable bet that a perfectly good and straightforward answer to that question exists, and I suspect that if I’d ever done the obvious thing and rung the local swimming pool to ask I’d probably have found that there was a designated Car Seat Storage Area for others facing this particular conundrum. However, I didn’t, for the same reason that I wasn’t doing the signing – I was feeling rather overwhelmed by the whole motherhood thing, and adding in any extras just seemed too daunting. It was easier just to put the whole thing off until, um, some undefined later date. Then we got to that undefined later date and, faced with the question of how I would keep an extremely mobile toddler from running off and getting into mischief while I got myself dry, I realised belatedly that starting while he was a baby would have been considerably easier. So I put it off yet longer.
However, I was determined to stop procrastinating on this one at some stage – I firmly believe that everyone should know how to swim. So, eventually, I set last Tuesday as the date that we would go along for Jamie’s introduction to the world of tiled echoey walls and large expanses of chlorinated water.
I read him his Busy Babies Go Swimming book in hopes that he’d make the link when he found himself in a real live swimming pool, and even tried to get a rubber duck like the one the little boy has in the book, as I knew this was a touch he’d appreciate. Unfortunately, the only toy duck I could find incorporated an educational shape-sorting toy and a noisy electronic version of ‘Oh, My Darling Clementine’. (Much as I hate to spoil a good isn’t-it-sad-what-childhood-is-coming-to-today anecdote, honesty does compel me to point out, in all fairness, that I only actually looked in one shop. Jamie now refuses to stay in his pushchair whenever we stop in any shops for longer than a minute – he can get out of a British Kitemarked five-point harness in a matter of minutes – and I decided that abandoning the shopping trip was the simplest route. I didn’t want a rubber duck for him that badly.)
We then had a last-minute hitch when the boiler broke down and the swimming pool closed for the day. Since Tuesday is my day off work, and this Tuesday was the day Tumbletots started up again, and we were visiting my mother last weekend to bid my grandmother farewell before she returned to the States, this weekend was the next chance I had to take him. So, this morning, we all headed off to the local leisure centre and paid an exorbitant amount of money (two adults, one child, one pair of armbands) for the few minutes I felt would be quite sufficient for his first introduction to the world of swimming.
I was highly relieved to find that they had the wonderful innovation of family cubicles, thus meaning that we could trade off the tasks of getting ourselves changed and seeing to a wriggly toddler who was decidedly not happy about this strange new environment. When Barry put the armbands on him, he freaked out. Nooooo! Horrible tight things! Nooooooo! I tried to point out to him that they were the same as the armbands in the Busy Babies book, and either this information or the calming tones of our voices persuaded him to at least accept them for now, but he was still fairly unnerved by the whole experience. He clung fiercely to me as we went out to the swimming pool, where we discovered that they didn’t have a toddler pool. This meant taking Jamie into the big pool, with the hordes of screaming children and the water that’s just slightly too cold when you first get in because you’re meant to keep yourself warm by swimming energetically, in much the same way that a toddler new to the pool doesn’t. Jamie’s reaction to this, as you can imagine, could be best described by sentences containing the word ‘limpet’.
Having read all the parenting books on the need to Respect Your Child’s Fears And Not Force Him, I was quite happy just to hold him and give him whatever time he needed to decide that he wanted to let go of me and start exploring a bit. Barry, who doesn’t read parenting books, decided to be a bit more proactive, and instigated a game where we stood a few paces apart and floated him back and forth between us through the water. Within seconds, Jamie was loving it. We only stayed a short while – I wanted to leave while he was still happy rather than waiting until he got tired and whiny – but he enjoyed himself hugely, splashing around and kicking and playing with the floats in the pool, and was even starting to get the idea of very, very rudimentary attempts to propel himself forward. When I took him back to the changing rooms to get him ready to go home, he even started playing quite happily with the Armbands Of Evil (putting his mouth to the nozzle, as that was what he’d seen Barry do).
On the way home, we dropped into one of the local shops for something else and I managed to find one of those children’s puzzles with pieces that you fit into wooden holes for only a couple of quid, so he played with that a bit when he got home. Then he spent a while playing with his Play-Doh after his nap. So, I can go to bed tonight glowing warmly with the knowledge that my son has spent his day engaged in Enriching And Educational Activities, not to mention rounding it all off with vegetables for dinner. Feel free to start throwing eggs at me.