I was afraid of the water until I was five-years-old. I remember the moment that changed.
It was an early, summer morning in Knoxville, Tennessee and my mother and I had met the swim instructor at the huge public pool. The water was still and quiet that morning, the opposite of what it had been the last time I’d seen it. The last time I had been there, it was teeming with teenagers in neon bikinis and older men with hairy backs and kids who knew how to swim. I was participating in a swim class–well, erm, perhaps participating is a strong word. I was screaming in a swim class. I was screaming and flailing and refusing to let go of the side of the pool.
There is nothing like the terror of being scared of the water. And I remember watching the other kids in the class not being scared and wondering how. How did they do that? They held on to the side of the pool calmly and happily. They kicked their feet back, no problem. They dunked their head under the water like it was a natural thing to do. They chatted with each other. I even remember one of them using a kickboard. I was alone in my fear that day. And on this morning, I was really alone. The neon bikinis were gone as were the men with hairy backs and the happy kids who liked the water. The pool had never looked scarier.
But I got in the water. I don’t remember how but I’m sure there was drama (I’ve always been excellent at hysterical). But do know it happened because the thing I remember most was being on my back and looking up at the clouds. I floated on the water that day. And it was the first time I wasn’t scared in the water. I felt safe. And I wanted that feeling for my son, Frog*. So, we signed up for baby swim class when he was four-months-old.
We are now two-and-a-half months in to our baby swimming adventure. And, um, it sucks. Baby swimming is not what I thought it would be. At all. So. Here’s what I know for sure about baby swimming (thank you Oprah).
The swim school has a strict double-diaper policy, quote, “A disposable swim diaper must be worn underneath a reusable one.” This policy is integral to the whole baby swimming experience and you cannot escape it. The double-diaper policy is slipped into any and all conversations with baby swimming personnel:
Me: Hi. I was calling to see what time my son and I should arrive for the first class.
Them: Oh, I’d arrive at least 15 minutes before class to get your bearings and fill out the paperwork. Has anyone told you about the double-diaper policy?
Me: Yes, they told me when I signed up.
Them: Good, because we have a strict double-diaper policy here. That means a disposable swim diaper must be worn underneath a reusable one.
Me: Yes, I’ve got both diapers and—
Them: Because you will not be allowed in the pool if you do not follow our double-diaper policy. That means that a disposable swim diaper must be worn underneath a reusable one.
Me: Got it.
Them: Because our double-diaper policy is strictly enforced. That means, two diapers, one—
Me: Thanks, I’ve got it, I’ll see you Wednesday.
Which, ok, I get it. Poop in the pool is never a good thing. But, um, maybe I’m just overly sensitive (which I am) but this whole, erm, ness over the double-diaper policy has really caused me anxiety. I live in fear that Kermie’s going to poop through the two diapers. Every Wednesday, about an hour before swim class, I wonder if this is the Wednesday Kermie poops in the pool. I mean, we follow the policy. Dear God we follow the policy. But if there was any way to circumvent the system, to boldly poop where no baby has pooped before, if it’s a matter of creativity, well, my money’s on Frog. And if it’s a matter of mother error, then my money is also on me.
So secondly, getting us, Frog and I, out of the house at the same time every week having eaten, napped, pooped, played, and achieved a state of let’s-go-have-fun takes a miracle. Like a real miracle. A God-Launches-His-Grenade-Of-Goodness-And-Mercy-Down-From-The-Heavens-And-Into-Our-Living-Room kind of miracle. It’s not just the swim gear organization (which takes way longer than it should and I’m still not sure why). It’s the timing. It’s The Schedule. Frog follows The Schedule until he doesn’t. And The Schedule is so important because even if the miracle grenade is launched, Frog fussiness equals Frog squirm. And because I’m holding him the entire time–yes, I am holding him the entire time–it’s me against the squirm. And it’s not like I can put Frog down for a second to give myself a break because drowning. Drowning’s a real thing.
And. Um, the swim teacher. He is so nice. He greets Frog and I with a cheery, hopeful smile every time. His name is, it’s, um, I still don’t know what his name so let’s just call him Ben. Ben sounds like someone who teaches babies how to swim. Ok, about Ben.
Ben likes babies. Babies like Ben. Ben is animated and fun and competent. I don’t think Ben is capable of drowning anyone which is important when evaluating who should be teaching swimming and who should not be teaching swimming. Ben has the best toys. Ben keeps the class moving and interesting. Ben makes all the babies smile…except one. And you can guess who that one is.
It’s not just that Frog doesn’t like Ben. It’s that Kermie waffles back and forth between not liking Ben and complete and utter indifference to Ben. Which of course makes Ben try harder (because Ben’s a trier which makes me like him even more). So Ben tries, Frog ignores harder. Which makes Ben try even more, maybe a baby dance, which illicits a strong side-eye from Frog and Ben is taken aback. Ben looks at me, confused and alarmed. Is your son ok? Is this normal? his face seems to suggest. And that’s when Kermie decides to grab for the penguin on Ben’s t-shirt–hey, interaction! Progress! Except that the penguin happens to lay precisely over Ben’s right nipple. Ben’s attention is now firmly directed at Frog. Ben laughs; he’s trying to be a sport about getting felt-up. But ultimately, Ben jumps away because Kermie’s grip is strong and persistent and no one, not even Ben, has the physical fortitude to withstand baby Kermie’s nipple tweaking abilities. Trust me.
But, perhaps most surprisingly, the most intense and suckiest part of the whole baby swimming experience has nothing to do with the actual swim class. It happens after class is over. It’s the after-class showers.
The showers are located in the pool area but near the exit door. The exit door leads to the changing rooms. After pool-time, we are funneled over to the showers. Some children are parent-full, some children are parent-less, but either way, there is a palpable pressure to shower. Now I’m not against showering (despite what my hair looks like these days). But depending on how the last forty-five minutes have gone (fifteen minutes Pre-class plus the thirty minute Actual-class), sometimes, I’m just ready to just get the hell out of there. But. But, here’s the thing: There’s a finite number of changing rooms and these changing rooms are occupied on a first-come, first-serve basis. That means whoever exits the pool area first gets the rooms. So should you have the audacity to exit the pool area without showering your child, the sheer volume of unspoken judgement headed your way will leave you disoriented and queasy. You’ll find yourself wondering, ‘What the hell?’ until it all becomes clear when you exit your ill-gotten room. You’ll see the queue of mothers with showered children glaring at you. They are waiting and it is because you broke the rules. And so, you scuttle out of the changing area in shame, not making eye-contact and making a mental note that skipping the shower is just not worth it.
“You know,” Sean says, after I’ve revealed my utter disdain for baby swimming (want details? Read this). “You don’t have to do baby swimming.”
“But what else would we do?” I ask him.
About a month ago, we were in class and it was Frog’s turn to demo the back float.
“The horn on the bus goes beep, beep, beep,” Ben sings, playfully tapping Frog’s tummy. And the strangest thing happened. Kermie relaxed. His little frog face went happy. His frog toes peeked out of the water and his little frog arms were resting peacefully away from his body.
“I’ve never seen a baby do that!” exclaimed another mother, impressed. And I couldn’t tear my eyes away because my Frog was floating.
Frog would like to say, ‘Thank you’ to his adoring public. Therefore, he is promising subscribers a special, weekly photo. Should you want to be graced with Kermie’s presence in your inbox once a week, please subscribe below:
*Note: Frog is not my son’s name, it’s his nickname. I also call him Kermie after Kermit the Frog and I am aware that some people may not be fond of this nickname. But I’m Da Mama. And he’s My Frog. That is all.