Monday, August 9, 2010

Learning to swim

My kid loves the water. She is taking lessons at Tacoma's Eastside Pool, the only pool in the area with Saturday lessons for children her age, as well as the one with the cheapest rates. She took their tot class last summer, and is now in their Level 1 swim class.

We attended a birthday pool party for one of her friends on Sunday. My daughter turned down eating lunch so she could stay in the water, came out of the pool long enough to sing happy birthday to her friend, and then jumped right back in.

I really want her to learn how to swim, in part because I can't. You may have heard about the six teens who drowned in Shreveport, LA last week when they jumped into a river to cool off from the oppressive heat. This article about the tragedy is one of many that notes that nearly 70% of black children in the U.S. can't swim, compared to only 42% of white children, and that African-Americans drown at much higher rates than do whites.

There are many reasons for the racial disparity in swimming ability, including historical segregation and current poverty which made and make it difficult or impossible to have access to pools and opportunities to learn to swim. Add to that the fear factor: when adults never had the chance to learn to swim, they are more likely to be fearful of the water and thus not allow their children to go near it.

My first opportunity in the water occurred when I was seven and my mother signed me up for lessons at the YMCA. There had to be at least fifty children in the class, so the instructors had no time to give individual attention to anyone. Instead, they demonstrated and explained certain techniques, and you either got it or you didn't. I learned to hold my breath under water in that class. (Even in my daughter's class, which only has ten kids, there is little time for individual attention. The instructor works with each child for about three or four minutes, while the rest of the kids play in the water).

My next chance occurred in seventh grade, when I took a semester of swimming as part of gym class. However, the swim teacher was a diabetic who was going through some serious complications, and he missed most of the semester. The substitute who replaced him declared each class "open swim," so we were never taught anything. A friend of mine taught me how to float in that class.

In tenth grade, I also had a chance to take a semester of swimming as part of gym. The swim teacher was well-known as an excellent instructor. But early in the semester, a kid lit up a cigarette in the gym, tossed it on a mat and set the place on fire. The gym, a separate building from the school, had so much smoke damage that they had to close it down for the remainder of the year. We spent the rest of our gym periods doing calisthenics in the basement of the school until it was warm enough to play a few sports outside. I never again had room in my school schedule (high school or college) to take gym.

The rest of my family can swim, but they all learned as adults. After her children were grown and out of the house, my mother signed up for swimming lessons and kept taking them until she learned. My dad and brother both learned to swim in the military. My sister learned to swim in college. Lucky woman, she could take swimming as a credit elective at her university. I didn't have that option.

As an adult, I never took independent swim classes because, I hate to admit, I was worried about my hair. When relaxed hair gets wet it tends to frizz up, which doesn't look so hot when you're a working professional. Straightening it out again requires several hours involving dryers, flat irons and curling irons. As such, swimming lessons seemed like more trouble than they were worth.

During the few times over the years I had the chance to get into a pool, I taught myself how to kick while floating, and I can make it across the shallow end of the pool that way. Still, that's hardly competent swimming. My husband, on the other hand, used to be a lifeguard.

So here's hoping that my daughter's love of the water will continue, and that she will become an expert swimmer. And perhaps her mother will, too. Learning to swim is not a hair challenge anymore, since I no longer relax my hair and don't care if it gets wets, but it is a time and schedule challenge. I would love nothing more, however, than being able to join my daughter in the water.

1 comment:

  1. Kim Pearson also wrote about this on BlogHer, FYI: