Sunday, February 15, 2009

Swimming Lessons

I stood shivering in the morning sun, eagerly awaiting my turn to get in the pool. Would this be the day? Would I finally do it?
“Listen to your teacher, Tracie,” my mother reminded me as she went to sit with the other parents. My sister was already splashing in another section of the pool with her more advanced class. My teacher gave me some last minute instructions and then it was my turn! Swim cap firmly in place, I slipped into the cool, shallow water with a sense of nervous anticipation. Would I finally be able to swim to the other side of the pool without stopping?
My mother, who couldn’t swim, insisted on lessons at the age of five. My sister had begun her lessons in Madison, Indiana at a pool within sight of the Ohio River. Sometimes we heard the calliope of the Delta Queen, an opulent paddlewheel steamboat. We would all go running down to the banks of the river in our swimsuits to watch it go by. But by the time I was five, we lived in Florida. We often played in Lion’s Park. From the top of the giraffe ladder I could see children splashing in the public pool across the street. That’s where my mother signed me up for my swimming lessons.
On the first day, my teacher had me get in the shallow end. “Okay, now hold on to the edge of the pool and lie down in the water. Gently, now, just let the water hold you up!” The sensation of the cool water licking my sun-warmed skin in random patterns was delightful! “Okay, good. Now kick your legs!” my teacher instructed. This I did with vigor and abandon, until my teacher got my attention again and began teaching me the finer points of straight legs and flexible knees. I worked hard at making my legs into useful tools. “Legs close together,” my teacher said, and I pretended I was a mermaid.
“Great, Tracie. Now it’s time to put your face in the water!” she said with enthusiasm. I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic. She taught me to hold my breath, turn my face from side to side, and breathe. I soon got the hang of it, still holding securely to the edge of the pool. This wasn’t so bad! At least as long as no one kicked or splashed too much, which made the water rock against me alarmingly. And then she was telling me to let go of the edge.
The moment of truth. Could I let go of the edge of the pool without sinking like a great, wet ball of fear straight to the bottom? With a good deal of coaxing from my patient teacher and the success of the other children giving me courage, I found that I could. I floated like a jellyfish for awhile. Then I began to learn to paddle.
The days flew by and the time for our final test came. I must swim from one side of the pool to the other without stopping. Swelled up with confidence in my hard won skills, I plunged in and started across, not listening to my teacher or anyone else. I got about a third of the way before realizing to my great surprise that I could go no further.
When my second turn came I was humbled and a little demoralized. This caused me to listen more closely, but secretly I was sure I couldn’t do it, so of course I couldn’t. I got about half way before I gave up. I felt I was letting everyone down. I didn’t care for the slightly contemptuous pity my sister offered!
The time came for a third try. I listened carefully to my teacher’s instructions. As I and all my butterflies slid into the water, I was aware that my swim cap was too tight, the rubber squeezing my head and tilting my eyes back slightly. I didn’t dare adjust it. If any of my hair escaped I’d have to get out of the pool. Soon it didn’t matter anyway. It was nearly my turn and I was listening to everyone screaming encouragement to the child in front of me. I noticed my mother, smiling sympathetically at me as only a mother can, and I resolved to see pride in her eyes when I was done. Then it was my turn.
As I breathed deeply, my teacher shouted a few last instructions. I slid down on my stomach into the water and began to swim. Sound dimmed as I concentrated on moving my arms in the prescribed manner, pulling myself through the water. Kick, kick, propel. Legs straight! Breathe, breathe, turn my head. Suddenly I touched the other side and sound burst back into my ears. People were cheering, rushing over to me, the sun was warm on my skin. I had done it! My sister was grinning at me, and my Mom looked - yes, proud!

(I thought now, while everyone yearns for spring, might be a good time to share this story about my childhood swimming lessons. Hopefully this will remind you there are warmer days to come!)

16 comments:

jenniferw said...

What a triumph for you! My sister and I had many happy, exciting, and sometimes scary days swimming as children too!

Susan said...

What an awesome photo - is that you looking so happy? I LOVED this account. I am glad you finally made it across. My swimming lesson memories are less fond. I remember having a stomachache before each lesson. Water and I have never mixed well, unfortunately :(

rhymeswithplague said...

Tracie, I love this story and that the way you have with words kept pulling me forward. I like the phrase "opulent paddlewheel steamboat" very much.

So who is the little girl in the picture? It's obviously not you on that day, because she's not wearing a cap. Maybe it's you on another day. Maybe it's not you at all.

Rosezilla said...

Yep, that's me. With no cap. Oops! Actually, I notice none of us are wearing caps... but who you gonna believe, me or the picture, lol! Maybe we only had to wear them during lessons? It has only been 43 years, you'd think I'd remember!

steviewren said...

Great story, perfect story telling.

I never took lessons. I swim terribly. I make a few strokes and then do a frog/dog paddle thing. I can float nicely though.

Islandsparrow said...

My mother taught swimming, my two sisters taught swimming and I taught swimming as well as life-guarded. I have so many happy beach and pool memories! There was nothing as exciting as watching a little one take their first strokes.

Sparky ♥ ∞ said...

Very good story. I love to swim ... always have. I'm a little fishy in the water. I grew up in central Florida and was given swimming lessons at the age of 5. I remember the teacher said I didn't need them. My husband and I met on a SCUBA diving trip to the Florida Keys. Our lives used to revolve around water. Such happy memories. ♥ ∞

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Swimming lessons were the bane of my childhood. This story brought back such memories.

daffy said...

This is a great story Tracie! Look at you! I'm yearning for nicer weather already!
I taught my daughter to swim and we have a few funny tales too! Sticks in the memory better I think! x

Protege said...

What a great story; I too remember when I learned to swim! I took lessons as a 6 year old child in the local pool, but for some reason I never felt comfortable there. I learned to swim first a couple of years later in the Mediterranean sea, during a summer holiday.;))

Connie said...

Great memories...wish I was swimming right now!

divastar said...

If we have a typical British Summer warmer weather will be only available overseas LOL! Well done on getting across Little Tracie! :o) xxxxx

Lavinia said...

Oh I was rooting for you as I read this! Remarkable memory but then again, remarkable moments like this in a childs life are seared into one's memory. I'm so glad you made it across the pool! Sounds like one of your proudest moments. Learning to swim is one of the greatest things we can do as children, really, it's unlike anything else. It's a triumph in an element that is not our own, and yet it lasts a lifetime.

Merle said...

Dear Tracie ~~ Well done - first with the swimming and second, your story about it. You write very well.
Thanks for your comments and I am so glad you liked the Stevie Wonder joke
and the blonde ones. I am glad you enjoy the jokes etc. Take care, my friend, Love Merle.

Betsy said...

How fun! I never got to take swimming lessons...I wish I had!

louise said...

This rather reminds me of me on holiday! I didn't have the opportunity to learn to swim as a child, but I am slowly improving with age! Your parents so did the right thing in providing lessons for you as a youngster. A lovely story and great photo. x

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