Some of you may remember the trouble I had in getting the boys to participate in swim lessons. It was my first paralyzing parental challenge. They love water, they just don't want to learn anything from it, and I had no idea what to do to get my children to join their frolicking classmates at Englewood's "Pirates Cove" water park. It killed me. Here the boys were delivered every day to an aquatic Disneyland, not some waterlogged old rec center with chipped paint and elderly bodies bobbing around the pool, but a brand new, state-of-the-art facility with water cannons and water slides and wading pools and a "lazy river." It's manicured to make even aquaphobes love water, and my boys sat on the edge, not even the least bit moved by my childhood stories of riding a bus two hours to get to the nearest pool.
It was not an easy chore, refraining from mild beatings. There were doting mothers sitting in a horseshoe encouraging their suburban spawn, and I sat on my own island, trying to be adorable about my boys not leaving my side. And after a while you don't know how to take their suggestions with a smile. "Yes, yes...just let them be and they'll figure it out..." I'd reply to the reception line of advice-bearing ladies. Whatever I tried; enthusiasm, wit, fear, even jumping in with their class and playing with the zeal of Southern Baptists in a river, they did not budge.
Here's a week of summer lessons with Otto:
There are two parts to my drive to get them to swim. First, they need to know how to. As a child I nearly drowned in a river (three times), and once sat helpless as I watched my brother gasp and flail in a beaver pond before being pulled out by this crazy redneck who just happened to know how to swim. A crazy redneck could swim, but my boys would not be able to. It bothered me. Which is the second reason. I think it's a male thing, but after being denied for three straight weeks at Pirates Cove, I was deteremined to make swim lessons happen.
I conjured a plan to get them in private lessons. There seemed to be some reticence about having other kids in the class. It makes no sense, as they've both gone to school their entire lives.They've been steeped in the competitive, take-no-prisoners world of preschool since they were three months old, so I didn't get the whole "Oh god, there's other children!!" routine. Maybe that's it. Maybe they were like, "Hey, great! Dad takes us too a pool and it's another friggin preschool."
I was at the rec center and swimming through the bodies of the bobbing elderly, when I got an idea. It's not brilliant, and actually is kind of sick, so keep your expectations low, but I decided I'd do private lessons for the boys, but with a really cute lifeguard. Quin already has a thing for the ladies. He might be that kid who gets in trouble early on. You know, touching a boob in the sixth grade or something, and I'm not sure I'm helping to curb that with my choice of swim coaches. Anyway, I found one, and when I asked her to teach my boys to swim, it felt like I was just a couple clicks of bad intention from requesting a lap dance. There was something wrong there.
She agreed. And Wednesday we had our first appointment. I've never been so nervous. All day at work I wondered what was wrong with me. It was the kind of anxiety I get when I have a comedy show at night. I have to try and function through mundane work activity with the distraction of a big event gnawing on my brain. I actually consulted some of the more experienced parents at work, and they comforted me (I think) with their own stories of swim lessons gone wrong.
I hope that my boys, heck all children in the world, realize how much thought goes into something as ordinary as getting a kid in the water. I rehearsed my facial expressions in the bathroom mirror. I wanted to look cool, not anxious, like swim lessons were not at all a big deal. These kids can sense whenever you really want them to do anything. "Hey, look, it's a jolly, magical man who will give you toys if you sit on his lap!" If they know you're dying for them to do it, they'll forgo Christmas.
I also prepared in my head how I was going to act at the pool. I wasn't going to say or do anything out of the ordinary. No extra enthusiasm or dire warnings; I was just going to be totally cool. I didn't care if they cried in the water either. The cute girl would have to take care of it. I was springing for private lessons, so I figure that's part of the deal. Oh, and I could never pull the "I'm springing for private lessons!" card. It would be lost on children.
With everything planned down to exactly how and where I was going to sit (they won't let the parents leave the building, but you can sit out of sight, and kind of near a TV with ESPN,) I got home from work with barrels of bravado. I would win.
Also, I would not be going. As the boys chose their mother over me.
That didn't deter me, as some of my work parents encouraged me (I think) by saying they too were overzealous. So after the boys left I followed them to the rec center. I found a place near the TV and watched as Sarah very coolly delivered them to the overdeveloped teen. The boys refused to get into the water.
I watched for another few minutes. Sarah spied me and shook her head. I couldn't bear it. I hit the elliptical and nearly pulled those arm things off. What in the hell was I going to do? Even death failed to deter the boys, or at least Quin, as demonstrated in this conversation:
Me: You need to learn how to swim.
Quin: I don't.
Me: You do, or you'll drown.
Quin: I don't care.
Me: If you drown you die.
Quin: Can I play games on your phone?
Nothing was getting to these hard-headed mini-mes. Nothing@!
I did fifteen minutes, which is just over a mile in elliptical distance, and then rushed back to the pool. It had been hard to stay on the machine, as all I wanted to do was see if the boys were in the water. Although, I was pretty sure that Sarah had packed it up. I often frame it as a lack of determination, but mostly she's not one to humor obstinence. I was working on some encouraging quotes in my head. I could take the boys next time. I had another plan. I'd take all their toys and swear they'd never see anything fun and/or comforting again until they joined in the lessons. "You can drown in sadness or swim in the pool," I'd shout during a lecture about choices. I even thought about a backup plan to my backup plan. These guys can have fun with a dead leaf. I was screwed. I had no plan. Until I turned the corner and scanned the water. Sarah was still there, but the boys were gone. Christ, she'd sold them. I looked at her and she smiled at me. And for good money!
And then I followed her gaze. Some twenty feet into the water there were the boys. THEY WERE IN THE GODDAMNED POOL! I have felt elation before, well heck, I won the Jackson County spelling bee in 1986, but this was like winning ten cars on The Price is Right. It was the best damned thing I'd ever seen. I tried to keep it cool walking across the natatorium to Sarah. Looking away from the boys and the teenage sprite, I used ventriloquist lips to whisper, "are they really in the water?" And Sarah, cool as ever, looked away as if not to be talking to me and said, "I've been trying not to cry."
Yes. I turned around and tried to watch like I wasn't seeing the the most validating moment since Quin got over colic. He waved from the water and Otto shouted for me to watch him in the pool. I almost dove in.
Later we'd nearly frighten the local high school swimmer with adoration and accolades. She has no idea, and from behind her piercings and on the other side of her extra large soda, she followed my wild gesticulating exhortations about her performance.
"I really didn't do much," she said.
She has no idea. Which is good. We're paying enough already. And Quin has made his intentions clear: I want to go back to the pool and see Alexis again. I checked with his little brother, and he agreed.