Sink Or Swim

Oh man. Wasn’t it summer like, a few hours ago? Weren’t we just complaining about the heat? From now on if I take my son swimming, it’s on borrowed seasonal time.

I spent much of the summer trying to instill my son with a lifelong love of the water. He turned two in July, so for him the whole aquatic thing is still very nebulous.

My strategy is threefold: give my son maximum encouragement but the minimum physical assistance, all the while distracting him with hilarity. Call it the Tarzan-meets-the-Marx-Brothers approach.

Fox is still pretty wimpy in water, but he’s made impressive progress. He started the summer anchored to the top stair of the pool at our apartment complex.

A Word About Our Apartment Complex

Every since we left New York, I’ve been uptight at the prospect of Fox losing his sense of diversity. Mercifully, our apartment complex is a suburban melting pot. Days at the pool saw a rotating cast of regulars.

There were the black kids, skinny and boisterous, constantly jumping out of and back into the pool. They never entered via the stairs or ladder – too predictable. They preferred to sprint along the pool’s edge, then suddenly twist into the water like a running back evading an imaginary tackle.

There were the Latino kids, stocky, smiling and bobbing like contented buoys. Once they got in the water, they stayed until they were finished swimming.

Another regular was the young Russian girl. She liked doing underwater handstands and scissoring her legs above the surface. I think she has her eye on Rio 2016.

(I’d hate for anyone to think my sweeping generalizations don’t extend to Asians. They actually represent the largest ethnic group in our apartment complex. But for some reason I never saw them at the pool. Probably they were practicing violin.)

There was also an autistic boy who loved nothing more than being fully immersed in water. He stayed submerged for so long that it impressed and alarmed all who watched him. He looked about eight, was non-verbal, and emitted piercing sounds at irregular intervals, like a seal’s bark. If this unnerved anyone poolside, they did an admirable job of concealing it.

And always, taking it all in from the top step, was Fox. In the way that babies sometime resemble old men, Fox looked like a Jewish retiree presiding over the shallow end at the condo in Fort Lauderdale.

I tried cajoling him. I tried forced piggybacks around the shallow end. And I lavished exaggerated praise on the bigger kids splashing around us. But Fox rarely left his mooring atop the steps.

Eventually I got him to hold my hands and walk up my chest – mountaineer style – until he summited my shoulders. This put my face squarely in the crotch of Fox’s swim diaper, which led to my loudly protesting a “face full of baby balls.”

Delighted at my chagrin, Fox would jump from my shoulders into the water. It became a game. He would enthusiastically insist we do “face… baby balls!” I of course encouraged his baby-talk, in the hopes of creating both verbal mastery and a potential YouTube sensation.

It’s unclear where Child Services draws the line between inappropriate and in flagrante delicto. What was clear was that our baby balls routine provoked reactions ranging from quizzical to scornful.

I knew it was time to redirect Fox’s enthusiasm when the babysitter expressed concern. Unaware of our game, she was confused by Fox’s apparent wish to suffocate her with his baby balls. My wife had to concede that there was no innocent explanation – no simple misunderstanding; Fox was, in fact, trying to give her a face full of baby balls.

Channeling the wholesome blandness of our new suburban surroundings, I changed the name of our game to climbing Mt. Daddy. This, I felt sure, would appease any prudes in the pool. But Fox clung to his baby balls mantra, drawing sideways glances and furrowed brows.

The Thing About Inflatables

Lots of kids had floats. They showed up with rafts, water-wings, and those stupid foam noodles that have been ubiquitous for decades. I call them stupid because we never had them as kids. And by definition, any contraption, contrivance or convenience I was denied is for pussies.

It’s not just Styrofoam noodles I resent. I am philosophically and viscerally opposed to all children’s flotation devices. Water is dangerous, and should be dealt with on its own terms. Accordingly, I don’t like anything that creates the illusion of easy mastery, except for these adorable chopsticks:

Hard to say whether I’m laying the foundation for a healthy swim ethic or a lifelong pattern of resentment. So this is where I make my cheap yet sincere plea for reader input. Did you raise your kids with tough love or floaties? Did it make them confident, independent swimmers or clingy, hydrophobic sissies? Respond when you like. You have until next summer.

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6 Responses to Sink Or Swim

  1. Noella September 10, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    I don’t have kids yet, but if I ever do, they are getting tossed in. It’s the only way they’ll learn to both love and respect the water. I grew up on the beach and ate my fair share of sand, got plenty of salt water up the ol nose and was bitch slapped by many a wave. My parents were always close by, but et me figure out how water worked for myself. And what do you know, I love the water and definitely respect it!

  2. DaN September 10, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    Might I suggest using exactly the same approach for driving – just hand them the fucking keys and put them on 95 South. It’s the only way they’ll ever learn.

  3. James September 10, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    I think baby balls would have happened no matter what, ours seemed to instinctively know how to tea bag with no modeled behavior to pattern off of, at around 2.5 yrs.

    Unfortunately “no tea bagging mommy” became part of my semi regular admonishments.

  4. Amanda September 10, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    We have a life jacket for the younger child because certain places require them for children under a certain age, and I feel like renting them is like renting bowling shoes, only worse. Who wants a used crotch strap?

  5. Michele September 11, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    Oh my god… I am laughing so hard that it is a good thing the kids are at (their first day of!!!) preschool. Wow. Baby balls…. Hysterical!

  6. Elizabeth September 13, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    I used a thing called the Safe T.Seal. It’s like a floatation device on their chest and their back connected by bungee cords. It doesn’t hold them up completely without their help. They have to move their legs to keep perfectly upright-they kind of bob there in the water like corks. I used it with floaties for a few weeks then when she was more confident I left those off and just used the safety seal. What I really liked about it was that she could move her arms and legs totally normally without anything restricting her movement and I was able to teach her to swim without stuff in the way. When she was a little better we started taking the safety seal off and practicing without it and in no time she could swim short distances without it. I also really liked being able to put it on when we were swimming with friends and she might be in and out of the water bc I knew if she slipped and fell in it would hold her up until I could get to her without causing a huge panic. She’s 3.5 now and we didn’t use the safety seal all summer and she can swim great. Check it out at target or Walmart or Dick’s sporting goods. If you get it there you could replace the baby balls game with the ‘fox lets put on your dick’ game :)

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