The summer my grandfather taught his children to swim, by dragging them to the end of a dock and throwing them off, my mother was laid up with a really bad knee injury. Skipping that sink or swim experience was the only thing she was grateful for that summer. I think I’d have found it terrifying, too. She never did learn to swim.
Consequently, she was always afraid of the water, and what she’d do if one of her children were drowning. So she made sure that the three of us had formal swimming lessons. She just couldn’t bring herself to watch while they were going on.
The lessons I took, I believe at the local Girl’s Club, were divided up by age and ability. Students in the beginners’ class were called pollywogs. Next came guppies, then minnows. It went all the way up to dolphins.
Being a pollywog was kind of scary. You had to learn to hold your breath under water. You spent much of your time desperately clinging to the side of the pool. You were learning to navigate a new and deadly world.
But I liked being a guppy. We got to go in the deep end, provided we held on to kickboards. We spent a lot of time kick, kick, kicking the water as hard and as high as we could. We wore nose plugs and ear plugs and goggles and swim caps, but we had graduated from the use of water wings. We felt powerful, even if some accessories were still required.
I’m grateful that my mother chose not to transfer her fear of water to me. I love to swim to this day. I now consider myself a slow moving dolphin. I look forward to my aqua fitness classes every week at the local YMCA.
But I kind of miss kickboards. They were fun. And it never hurts to have something to fall back on.