The lifeguard warns us parents, "Some of your children may scream at first when coming into the water."
The orange-haired, tramp-stamped, flabby-bellied-whilst-in-a-bikini woman off to my left waves a fishbelly-white arm and points theatrically toward the sullen-looking baby she's holding with her other arm.
"THIS ONE HERE! OH YEAH! THIS ONE! SHE'S GONNA SCREAM!"
You don't say.
Swimming lessons are among those things that either you had –formally or informally, does not matter– or you didn't as a child; but if you did, they marked you for life. How can they not? Even if they left a favorable impression, it was the first time for most of us that our parents willingly lead us to a place where we could die.
The chlorine smell and that particular pool smell, they all remind me of good times and vacations and summer, and of heartbreak and ear infections, but they also bring back vividly those first times I had to blindly trust and let go and attempt to float or hold my breath. That salty sting in the eyes reminds me of trying to learn to do handstands and pretending to be a synchronized swimmer.
And getting an accidental gulp of pool water always brings that little bit of tinny dread to the forefront of my mind, like a lash of lightning to my conscious mind.
So now that Herr Meow is starting to take swimming lessons, I am keenly aware of my own misgivings and likes; and I realize that as much as we may project our own fears onto our children, some things are truly and universally scary for all, even if there is much enjoyment to be derived and an innate ability in some.
And so, when the young boy dressed in red and white reminds us all parents that being in a pool will be scary enough for some to scream out loud, I remember and I hold on to my kid as tightly as he wants me to, and then some.
Herr Meow is a little scared of the water, but he is also excited. He refuses to try to ride the floating board that the boy lifeguard offers him; however, when the pretty girl lifeguard offers, he gets over his fears and goes on ahead, telling me and whoever will listen afterward how fun it was and how he rode the board and how BRAVE he was.
Because he's a brave boy, right mommy?
As I hug my brave boy, I look at the shallow end of the kids' pool. Orange-hair is there with her mother, both of them laughing uproariously as, right on cue, her child is wailing.
The swimming lesson started twenty minutes ago, and the child is still sobbing and screaming. And her mother is dunking her periodically in the two-foot-deep water, happily dragging her child in and out of the pool.
The little girl flails her arms all around and keeps on shouting, reaching out to her grandmother who seems delighted to continue this torture and swirling her granddaughter's tense body in and out of the pool.
Both women have separated from the main swimming lesson and are taking turns dredging the unfortunate kid in the water. As the forty-minute lesson wraps up and we leave the pool, I can still hear the screams.
I'm not sure what else to say here, except that if in about forty years' time Orange-hair is wondering why her daughter won't trust in her and won't confide in her, or perhaps why she won't talk to her, I am willing to bet she won't remember that June day where she let her daughter scream for forty minutes straight and laughed in her face at her fear of drowning.