Every Wednesday, I take both my kids to swimming lessons after school. It’s not something I look forward to – but until recently I used to hate it with a PASSION. Now, I have mellowed into some kind of zen-like resignation that it’s not very nice but it’s a necessary part of parenting. A bit like fishing poo out of the bath when they are toddlers, or watching them struggle with life as they get older. But it’s only after 4 ish years of weekly sessions that I have arrived at this wise owl-like state. Yes, I am now somewhat of a Swimming Lesson Pro.
This has taken time to perfect. For years I sweated (still do a bit to be fair), broke out in actual hives, mixed up my kids’ black Clarks shoes with other kids’ (Clarks, please widen your range of school shoes), forgot my parking money, forgot to take the blue plastic bags off my shoes until I got back to the car, forgot healthy snacks, forgot a bottle of water, forgot reading material. Or, mainly, I just plain old lost the plot with the kids – I very often drove home in tears after, at worst, yet another horrifying swimming lesson meltdown and, at best, a hot and sweaty stressful hour of wrestling kids in and out of uniforms / swimming gear.
Now, I look on at other harried parents, smiling knowingly at the innocent new ones who express fresh alarm at the stressful furnace of hell that swimming lessons are for mums and dads. I overhear them, their faces stricken with fear and shock, saying to other parents that they recognise from school “OH MY GOD! It’s… it’s, like, MAYHEM isn’t it?!” and their school acquaintances nod sagely in agreement: “Yes, yes it is, Paula.” as they wrangle past with a baby in a buggy, a 7 year old and a toddler, shouting over their shoulder, “wait till the other one starts, Paula, one is easy!” We all know that they, like me (previously, not any more with my newfound zen-ness of course…) will drive home like maniacs and mainline wine within minutes of arriving through the door… Yes. Whichever their weekday swimming lesson is on, it will now be known as Wine [insert day of week].
See, it’s not just the HEAT. It’s getting them to the lessons (in my case, picking them up early from school so we can drive half an hour to get them there on time). It’s the argument en route (why do we have to go mummy, why?! they cry… Erm, because you might drown on holiday otherwise…. But I’ll just wear armbands!… and on it goes until you have to turn up the radio to drown out their protests). It’s getting them dressed / undressed (why is my 7 year old still insisting on help when other younger ones do it themselves – oh yeah, did I mention the added stress layer of an internal monologue comparing your kid’s dressing capabilities to other people’s?).
Then once one of them actually gets in the sodding pool there is the begging for vending machine chocolate from the waiting sibling – and, of course, the request for your phone. (You acquiesce for a moment’s peace.) With no phone, there really is nothing to do apart from read old copies of the local newspaper that hang limply, wrinkled from the sheer temperature (did I mention that it’s EFFING HOT??). Unless, of course you know other mums there, in which case a conversation that never gets finished can be started.
I’ve never been to swimming and not seen a mum (usually) who is on The Brink. Red in the face, no longer bothered that she is fully telling off her offspring in public, she’s almost at breaking point. I feel so much for that mum! Boy, have I been there and done that! Once I had to leave before both had had their lesson because I was about to burst into tears. Or flames. Actually I think it was both.
Think you can get away for half an hour, unnoticed, to the Tesco Express to get the last minute ingredients for tea whilst they doggy paddle away contentedly? Think again. You aren’t supposed to, just in case they need a wee – or worse – and then you’ll be needed. Don’t get me wrong, some brave souls do chance it – and I silently will them on! What a brave soul sister she is! You go get your shopping girl, I don’t judge (just make sure you do it sneakily or you might get into trouble).
So you switch to weekend lessons. F*ck this! Dad can take them, you rebelliously shout on the way home one weekday. And for some, this is the answer, but for us (we tried it) it just extended the hell into the weekend – and then all too frequently the kids were missing the lessons due to somebody *cough* Dad *cough* being hungover. So, you revert back to midweek lessons, cursing your ‘overly social’ husband all the while…
I can, to some degree now, look back on the last 4 years and laugh. I feel like I have a Masters degree in Taking Kids to Swimming Lessons. I’ve experienced the highs (OMG she swam without armbands!!), the lows (oh sh*t, he’s smashed his head on the floor after swinging on the bars – this actually happened yesterday FFS).
But what it really was that changed my feelings towards the kids’ weekly swimming lesson hell, was empathy. See, I had a swimming lesson the other day, to try and master the front crawl (I could do it, but I looked like I was having a fit so I sought expert help). It was exhausting! I was really emotional and frustrated too. You forget how vulnerable you feel when you learn something new. So now I have a new found respect and support for my kids who are learning the whole thing from scratch, which let’s face it is much scarier than mastering a stroke. This is stressful for them too, not just us. And, you know, we are The Adults, I suppose…
Learning to swim is a lot like learning to be a parent… it’s much harder when you flap about and don’t breathe. When you actually start to relax and stop hyperventilating, everything just gets so much easier.