My talent pool quite shallow in swimming

Sunday, June 12, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:51 p.m. CDT, Friday, June 27, 2008

My husband never learned to swim. The main reason, he says, is because there was no swimming pool where he lived, a small town in Iowa. And he says he almost drowned in a neighbor’s pond when he got tangled in some undergrowth. His fear of water was so intense that he insisted that all of our children learn how to swim.

I can remember as a kid taking swimming lessons from the American Red Cross. I don’t remember the lessons, but I remember carrying a card stating that I was a junior lifesaver. Thank God I never had to save anyone.

Swimming is not like riding a bike. Once in a pool, it DOESN’T come back to me. Floating is the only thing I can do well. When our kids were young, we kept our dirty little secret from them. I’d always make excuses as to why Dad wasn’t swimming. And for a while they bought it. When they first started lessons, they wanted to race Mom. “Ready, set, go” I’d say, and we’d race to the end of the pool. I’d let them win by just a fraction and they’d be delighted that they had beaten me. By the time they were 9 or 10 I wasn’t faking it, they did beat me.

Then our kids took up a crusade to teach us to swim. First, they started with dear old Dad. One excuse he used was that he couldn’t see without his glasses and that was why he had never put his head under water. The kids took up a collection and presented him with a pair of prescription goggles for his birthday. You should have seen his face when he opened his gift. He looked like a cornered mouse.

After weeks of working with him, my husband was able to swim across the pool, not the length of the pool, mind you, the 20 feet across. He was never going to improve, so they turned their attention to me.

Before my lesson, I was asked to show my stroke. Confidently, I got in my racer stance, which is tough when your holding your nose, and dove into the pool. Actually, it was more like a belly flop. Then I began beating the water with my arms, moving my head from side to side. Minutes (several) later I completed one lap and gasped my first breathe. The kids were smirking, but none dared to laugh.

“Just as I thought,” one of them shouted. “You don’t know how to breathe.”

Yes I do. I just can’t do it when I swim.

“And you’re pounding the water, you need to relax your fist,” another offered.

“OK,” the oldest daughter said. “We need to begin at the beginning.”

And for the next hour, several of my children tried to help “poor Mom.”

We began with blowing bubbles. In addition to feeling stupid, I didn’t see the point.

“When your head is under the water you should blow out. And then when your head comes out, you take a breath in,” she said.

I thought it was much easier just to hold my breath, but I said nothing.

Next we worked on my “stroke.” Standing in shallow water, I bent over and worked on cupping my hands as I was instructed. Then we went to the side of the pool and, hanging on to the edge, I learned the proper way to kick.

The problem came when I tried to put it all together. The last thing I was told was to relax. If I concentrated on breathing, I forgot to move my arms. Once I got the arms going I didn’t kick. The result was me moving my arms and head but going nowhere.

I wanted to learn. But the more I concentrated the worse it got. After 15 minutes, I was so tense I had a raging headache. I think I heard one of my kids say something about “she can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Every summer, one or more of the kids would try to give me a refresher course. And every summer they’d give up in defeat (and disgust). Then, thank God, they started having kids and the mission to teach Mom was abandoned.

Today I have 12 grandkids who swim like fish and two guppies who are well on their way to join the ranks of their cousins.

The tiny ones look like baby buoys as they bob in the water with their water wings. Thank goodness they don’t make them for adults or I think Papa would have gotten a pair for his latest birthday.

Now I’m content to sit on the sidelines and watch as they show me the butterfly or the breaststroke. Occasionally, I will be asked to join them in the pool. Gladly, I hold my nose with one hand and jump in.

If you have a comment, please e-mail me at but please don’t offer any help.

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