We arrived at the kids’ first swimming lesson yesterday and the instant we entered the indoor pool area I remembered a critical piece of information about swimming lessons: the person not submerging themselves in water should dress appropriately for the sweltering air temperature. Which is to say, jeans and a sweatshirt are a bad idea.

Dylan, who until that very moment had been chattering nonstop about how excited he was for swimming, burst into tears at the sight of the sweet-faced young instructor. Our previous swim teacher had simply ferried Riley through the water, tears and all, distracting him with floating toys, but this girl blinked at Dylan’s sniveling downturned lip and informed me she didn’t think it was a good idea to push things.

There he sat on the edge of the pool the entire half hour while she interacted with the three other small children. Once or twice she approached him, he shook his head, and she shrugged and left. Soon he forgot what he was upset about and began kicking happily, then reaching down to splash the water. I stared holes through his back while sweat coursed down my forehead, waiting for the inevitable moment when he would fall in, and so at least it wasn’t much of a surprise when he eventually did and I was able to quickly race forward and snag one fish-slippery arm in order to haul him out as he bobbed back toward the surface.

The instructor raised her eyebrows sympathetically at me, then turned back to the other kids.

Eventually it was Riley’s turn for his lesson and I spent most of the time attempting to pull dry clothes onto Dylan, wondering just what sort of physics transformation takes place with children where their damp skin becomes like Superglue to fabric, then I had to keep Dylan away from the edge of the pool while we waited for Riley, then I helped stuff Riley into his own clothes, then I drove home where I staggered across the doorway and collapsed in a pool of sweat on the living room floor while the boys started running from one of the house to the other shouting “PSHEW! PSHEW! PSHEW!”

So obviously, my big plan for helping the kids siphon off some pent-up energy through swimming is going really really well. I don’t even know what to do now because jesus, I don’t want to spend two afternoons a week poised in a breathless, heart-hammering crouch by the edge of the pool, ready to save the toddler from drowning. I sort of want to tell this girl to nut up and just grab my reluctant whiny-ass kid because he’ll be FINE IN TWO MINUTES IF SHE DOES, but then again, I suppose it’s not technically in their job description to deal with reluctant whiny-ass kids.

Should I just get in the water with him next time, if he withdraws from her again? Sidle over and hiss death threats into his perfect shell-pink ear? Say fuck it and give up on lessons for him right now?



Mr. Easy-Peasy, comparatively speaking:



60 Responses to “Marco polo”

  1. R on January 26th, 2011 12:29 pm

    Also, are the instructors there also required to be lifeguards? She should be able to keep an eye on all the kids. You shouldn’t have to be sitting poolside worrying whether you’re going to have to rescue D. That’s not okay. It’s also part of the instructor’s job to keep all of the kids safe. Which shouldn’t be hard in a small class.

  2. Kris on January 26th, 2011 12:52 pm

    I’m so so SO glad you called, because all I could think of was “WHAT THE FUCK?????”. You had to grab your own kid? From the bleachers? Because she wasn’t paying attention? And then she FUCKING SHRUGGED with her eyebrows at you????? Sorry for the shouting and the swearing, but oh my fucking hell, what was that instructor thinking?

    If he’s reluctant at the next class, ask the director if you can suit up & get in the pool with him for a few minutes, just until he’s comfortable. Not forever, but just for 5 minutes each at the next 2 or 3 classes. I don’t think you’re coddling him – you don’t want him filled with anxiety, if he tanks in again & you’re not there to grab him, you know?!?

    As a little kid, my Dad let go of me in the pool, and I sunk to the bottom. Didn’t know how to swim or get back to the top, swallowed gallons of chlorine water, and puked alllllll over the pool when he finally pulled me back up. Shockingly, I love to swim now; but I still get really anxious if I get dunked or someone “playfully” holds me under the water.

  3. Anne on January 26th, 2011 2:24 pm

    I agree with all the other commenters who noted that their kids improved SO much faster in private or semi-private lessons. My 4 year old didn’t make any headway at our local Y, in part because there were usually 6-8 kids per class, and the class was 30 minutes long. I didn’t want to pony up for completely private classes, but I found a school (called Starfish–it’s a warm water pool, and I think it’s a franchise, maybe they have one near you?) that caps classes at a 1:4 ratio, and usually at least two kids don’t show up, so you wind up with a semi-private lesson almost every time. I TOTALLY recommend this for little ones.

  4. Linda on January 26th, 2011 2:52 pm

    I like the idea of private lessons but they cost a RIDICULOUS amount at our pool. Our current classes are pretty small though (1:4), so it’s not as bad as it could be.

    Second class tonight, here’s hoping it’s not quite so jam-packed with the delicious taste of fail.

  5. t.cup on January 27th, 2011 2:19 am

    glad you called the swim school, i would have been LIVID in that situation. actually, my oldest used to do swim lessons and he had a fab teacher who would drag him in kicking and screaming because he would eventually get over it most times; but this one day she was away and he had a teacher who literally just had him sit on the side of the pool like that ‘until he could behave properly’. and then ignored him. so essentially i hauled us both down there and paid for him to sit and do nothing, let me tell you it felt AWESOME. not.

    anyway now he has a whole new teacher at a whole new place and he learned more in three lessons there than he did in a whole year of lessons at his old swim school – and it is fab. i can’t say enough about how much it means to have a teacher that gels with your kid. or at least one that doesn’t just shrug if your kid falls in. what if you weren’t there to catch him?!

  6. Run4Donuts on January 27th, 2011 6:15 am

    Oh, how your post made my heart pound! This happened to us 8 years ago; sorry to see it still happens.

    Like the mom Christie saw, I actually watched my HAPPY TO BE IN THE POOL 3-year-old daughter let go of the wall, where she was in the water waiting for her turn. She sank like a rock. The teenager teacher and the teenager lifeguard were not paying attention. I went over the little wall (“Parents must sit back here, it’s better for the children” – my ass!) and into the water. The lifeguard never even got her pimply behind out of the Big Girl Chair. So then I was soaking wet, enraged, and holding a once-happy child who now was terrified of the water. This is one of the moments in my life when I think I really could have killed someone. It must have been on my face, because the two teens stayed FAR AWAY from the drippy crazy lady.

    The swim director gave my girl private lessons for a while just to help get her back into the water. It did involve tears the first few times, but she recovered pretty quickly. The original instructor was switched to teaching older kids who could already swim enough not to DROWN in her tender care, and there were more lifeguards at the pool after our little incident.

    Also, please count me as +1 for giving the instructor permission to get your son into the water, tears and all. Swimming is a lifesaving skill, and the sooner he learns, the better. Good luck!

  7. Katherine on January 27th, 2011 10:14 am

    Good for you for talking to the director. Maybe there is another class/teacher combination for him. I signed my son up for classes through the rec center back in Virginia and he cried and screamed every week. Awful. The teacher did the same sort of thing, shrugged and acted like it was my fault. We moved to Texas and have a pool now so I’ve got to suck it up and get these kids swimming.

    I signed my son up for swimming through a program called Emler and the result is totally different. They “reward” the kids with crappy dime store items, skittles, rides on the slide, ribbons, etc. My son slowly warmed to the bribing and now he’s swimming. I teared up when he finally put his head under and started actually swimming.

    It looks like Emler is only a Texas thing, but maybe ask around. I think there are other approaches than the underwhelming lady at the Y.

  8. Katherine on January 27th, 2011 10:17 am

    This is a fluff piece about this “Emler” method, but it gives you an idea.


  9. Stacy H-W on January 27th, 2011 9:42 pm

    Tell that instructor to pony up and do her dang job! I would have been in the office complaining if she had done that with my kid….aren’t you paying for a lesson?? Or for him to sit on the sidelines??

    I have 5 kids and they have all had swim lessons and not any of them was thrilled the first day or maybe even the second or third and they never would have ever been if the instructor had done what Dylans instructor did.
    Just my 2 cents….

  10. Shawna on January 29th, 2011 10:57 am

    Can’t wait to see what happens at the next lesson. We own a pool so we are seriously considering ponying up the extra for private lessons this spring. I want my kids to be able to do more than their standard imitations of rocks before we open the pool this summer. We have a turtle alarm that shrieks a loud siren if the bracelets the kids wear get wet, but still…

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