August 4, 2008
My last post “Faster Cars, Slower Days” generated the question why it is I can’t swim, so I thought I would explain how this has happened:
My first swimming lesson happened in New England when I was about 3 years old. It was at a lake that had a beach like area but instead of soft sand it had gravelly rocks. In later years no one would swim here because there got to be too many leeches (one wonders what not enough leeches feels like), but at this point in time my dad loved this lake. I remember sitting on the beach watching the swimming instructor take children out one by one, but I clearly wasn’t watching exactly what she was doing judging by what happened next. When my turn came she picked me up, carried me out to water much higher than I could stand and began her count down: “3, 2, 1” and then she dunked me under water and held me down. Since I hadn’t known what was coming I hadn’t been holding my breath so I inhaled a mouth-full of water in my panic. She pulled me out and as I sputtered for air she counted “3, 2, 1” and pushed me back in again. This was repeated a few times and I never did stop chocking until she deposited me back on the “beach”. Understandably after that I never trusted strangers in skin tight clothing standing it water taller than my head. Which as most of you know is how most swimming lessons occur. My parents did try to take me to other lessons in regular pools. There wasn’t a public pool in our area so the lessons always occurred at random people’s houses who had big signs about “we don’t swim in your toilet don’t pee in our pool” (At the time I always thought please go ahead and swim in my toilet, but it’s a pain in the butt to peel off a wet swim suit when you need to pee). I fought hard against going to these lessons. “Shallow” end? Surely you jest, there’s nothing shallow about 5ft when I’m less than 4ft. But I wasn’t really scared of the water, just that so-called swimming instructor who like some dark lord of the sea was willing to drown me with brute strength. I remember once in the middle of a screaming tantrum I resorted to taking off my carseat belt mid trip to the pool just to show my parents how serious I was about not going. It might sound ridiculous but if there’s one thing sure to fire my parents up it’s fooling around with personal safety and those swimming lessons were successfully put to an end. By the time I got to high school swimming class I’d given up on ever learning. The gym teacher was baffled to have someone who clearly only knew the dog paddle (I’d probably picked this stroke up from our family dog) and the elementary back stroke. But there wasn’t much he could do in a couple hours a week with a whole class full of other students. I’m not sure how I passed that course. I’ve never learned to tread water or how to float very well. I normally end up sinking fairly quickly. And diving was really a lot of painful belly flopping and almost resulted in stitches on my hand when I slipped off the diving block and scrapped my wrist. (I still have the scar but it got me out of the pool early so what’s a little blood?) But I could do a mean dog paddle down the length of the pool in the time it took other kids to do roughly 20 laps so I guess that was good enough for him. Or perhaps he just wanted me out of the pool so he wouldn’t have to risk doing a rescue in 3rd period gym class.