Thursday, March 04, 2010


Genetic Guilt

The Boy had another swim lesson last night, and it wasn't pretty. As miserable as he was, it all came rushing back to me.

As a parent, it's painful to watch your kids struggle with the exact same things you did.

I was never any kind of swimmer. I had the rotten luck to go to school districts that had pools, and where lots of kids had plenty of practice in water. That meant 13 years of mandatory swim units in gym class. It was horrible. I still remember some of them, and not happily.

Unlike other sports, you can't really fake swimming. Being "in over your head" isn't just a metaphor. And when you combine a certain gawkiness with an unforgiving medium and gym teachers who had the people skills of, well, gym teachers...

Watching TB gasp and flail and eventually come over to the bleachers with a defeated, hangdog expression, I knew exactly how he felt.

It's usually fun, if sometimes embarrassing, to see shades of yourself in your kids. They'll show some recognizable mannerisms, and sometimes pick up on quirky little things that you realize later are now 'family' traits. It's even more fun when they improve on something, or give it a new twist that immediately seems like it should have been there the whole time.

But those little inheritances cut both ways. When you see your own flaws, your own failings, reflected back at you...

Sorry, big guy. We're not water people.

And gym teachers have always been like that.

Ben Folds has a song about his son, and one of the best lines is, "...And you're so much like me—I'm sorry."

I inherited the bad swimmer gene from my father as well, and I don't hold it against him too much.
I spent four summers teaching kids to swim - some kids would spend 6 weeks just getting up the nerve to put their face in the water. Small group or one on one instruction is key - you need individualized feedback on your stroke to do it right. You also need time to practice each part of a stroke and master it before you put everything all together. Technique is profoundly important.

Find a YMCA or Red Cross WSI certified instructor for him for a summer and things should improve dramatically. Also, if he is less than 10, he's probably running into the problem a lot of kids have with swimming at that age where his head is out of proportion to the rest of his body (5 year olds have a head that is almost the same size as an adult head). For some kids, swimming strokes don't work as well until this resolves - in the early teen years.
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.
Depends on your body type, too. My sister had a hard time until she was well into puberty, when she got enough body fat that she could finally float. Before that she had an endless series of instructors who would tell her to lie back and take a big breath. Then they removed their hands, only to watch her go down sputtering. She was perfectly healthy, just naturally lean and therefore denser than water.
You wouldn't think that swimming is such a technique thing, but it really is, for the body reasons discussed above. I don't swim much, but it's always reassuring to know that I can, if it's important. So it's worth the bother of getting some individualized instruction.
Could it be a biological thing? I'm a klutz, my mom's a klutz, her mom was a klutz, and the great grand daughter (my niece) is a klutz. None of us have/had a sense of balance that's worth a damn.

Needless to say, it all made sense when I learned that:
1. I have scoliosis.
2. Mom has scoliosis.
3. Her mom had scoliosis.
4. Still waiting to hear on the great grand daughter.

Fortunately, all of our diagnosed spines tilt left (*GRIN!*)
FWIW, I don't remember any of your awkward swim experiences. You may be the only one who still remembers them. Also, I'll check with my gym teacher / swim coach sister to see if she has any advice.
Was terrified of swimming as a child, and I've never been particularly skilled at it. some point in my early teens I fell in love with being in the water, even when my swimming wasn't technically all that great.

Reading your post, I'm trying very hard to remember what made the difference -- Ivory & Anon 10:44's comments about body changes probably have something to do with it.

But I think also a few summers with access to a pool outside of classes turned me around. In other words, just goofing around in the water with siblings and friends. (At a local synagogue of all things.) I'm sure that's tricky to find in northern climes -- I did a lot more swimming living in So Cal than I do now! If that's an option at all, I recommend it.
Been there, done that.

My college required all freshman to pass a swimming test. Those who failed had to take a quarter of beginning swimming. Those who still failed had to retake beginning swimming for another quarter.

I was among the elite who took two full quarters of beginning swimming, never missing a class, and still couldn't swim at the end.
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