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For most families, teaching your kids to swim is a given. Many of us assume that our friends’ kids can swim, or can tread water well enough while adults are supervising. It doesn’t occur to us that some kids have never even tried to swim, much less mastered it. As residents in the desert state of Arizona, members of our family (and many others) rarely swim, or even see a pool every year. Last summer, it was a shock to realize my ten-year-old son couldn’t swim!
Of course he knew how to swim… Right?
It had never occurred to me. The Boy had been in pools, and played with friends around them. I saw him in the water all the time. Of course he knew how to swim, right? It’s a trap many parents fall into. It’s hard to objectively look at our kids and measure growth. They are always forcing you to be more confident in their skills, because they are always getting better at, well, people-ing. We have to look at them as if we don’t know them, sometimes, to understand their current skills.
We joined a gym last year, and started working out as a family. The Girl was all over aerobic exercise. The Boy wanted nothing to do with anything other than the treadmill and the pool. Treadmills are a bit boring, especially since he could only do it when an adult was with him, because of his age. So the pool became his go-to place.
Jenny took the kids over to the indoor swimming pool the first time, and they were tested for skill level. The Girl came back “Green.” She could swim wherever she wanted, any time. The Boy came back “Yellow.” He could swim well enough to use most features, just not the 12′ diving well. I high-fived them both for doing well, and didn’t think much more about it.
A couple of weeks later, I went into the pool area to collect him. I couldn’t find him. He wasn’t in the activity pool, or on the water slide. He wasn’t in the “open rec” area of the pool, either. I had a teensy panic attack, as I realized I couldn’t see him anywhere, despite knowing he was in the pool area.
A friend, who happened to be a lifeguard, casually pointed the Boy out for me, saving me from the embarrassment of asking anyone if they’d seen him. He was holding on to the edge of the pool, under the supervision of a lifeguard, making his way around the perimeter of the pool. I asked him to swim back, and come out with me. That’s when he told me he couldn’t actually swim.
How the heck did my son pass a swim test if he couldn’t swim?
After a small investigation (i.e., asking my wife), I found out that the Boy couldn’t swim at all. He was just so tall that it didn’t matter. That’s why he was “yellow.” He was too tall to fail the test completely, but couldn’t actually swim. In a small family conference, we casually discussed whether he needed lessons. He didn’t want them, so we left the decision for another time.
Not long after that, my lifeguard friend told me that he’d performed fifteen rescues in the previous week. Fifteen! Needless to say, I moved swim lessons to a higher priority. The next time we went to the gym as a family, the Girl said they had a surprise. I was legitimately baffled at the time, but I should have seen it coming.
She had taught the Boy to swim!
I was blown away. The lifeguards who taught the lessons were, too. She had taught him to swim in less than half of the time of a regular swim lesson. She wouldn’t give up on him. She made a game out of it, challenging him to reach goals and thresholds, while providing one-on-one support and advice. It was perfect for both of them. It was fun exercise for both, and they built memories together.
Of course, I’m not just here to brag on my kids (though, I could do so all day). I want to encourage you to make sure your children can swim. Get them lessons, visit pools regularly, or go to lakes with shallow entries. I was an adult before I learned to swim, and I nearly drowned when I was eight or nine. I’ve now seen fathers standing by, while lifeguards perform CPR on kids of all ages. It’s ugly. It’s terrifying for everyone.
It’s not worth the risk.
Take the time, or make the time. Your peace of mind is worth it. Your kids’ lives are worth it. Don’t wait to find out the hard way. I got lessons, my son learned to swim, and I have tons of fun playing with my kids while staying cool. Now, I’m getting off of my soapbox, into my trunks, and I’m racing my kids to the pool.