The Super Whites The ordinary life of a Super Mum

The Super Whites
Splish, splash

Recently a friend in the UK asked me about swimming lessons for my girls (Hi Carol! *waves*) which was perfect timing because the girls just started a term of lessons two weeks ago. My friend was asking about water safety here in Oz and teaching children to swim. I have an opinion about this, but its just that, my own personal opinion so I thought I would share it!

Learning to swim has been high on my agenda of things I want my children to do, but it wasn’t a big deal to me that they learn from birth. There were a couple of reasons for this, one being that I only learned to swim comfortably when we moved to South Africa when I was five and a half and it never hampered me. Also, although I do enjoy a frolic in the pool, its not something high on my list of everyday activities so its not something that we would be doing daily, or even weekly. We don’t have a pool but are lucky enough to have friends who live nearby with a pool so I imagine the girls will be swimming more regularily this summer. The third reason was that swimming lessons are expensive and we just didn’t have the extra money to make them an ongoing thing and instead we chose to do 8-10 week terms at a time.

After Amy was born I took her swimming once in the UK before we left, she was about three months old and she howled the whole way through. It was cold in the change rooms, it was wet in the change rooms and babies need to be laid down to change and the whole process was just, well hard. Not fun like I thought it was going to be. I didn’t commit to lessons only because we were moving to Australia in the new year.

We stayed at my parent’s house in Johannesburg on holiday on our way to Australia and although I had the intention of swimming in their pool with Amy, even in the South African summer the non-heated pool was still too cold for her and the only time we tried it was down the coast for Christmas and once again, it was all just too much fuss. Getting her changed, covered in suntan cream, swimming nappies and sunhats and then after a few minutes of holding her she got tired and I got tired and then the whole process was reversed, undressing, drying, nappy cream, dressing. I needed a lie down and a G&T afterwards!

I was however very worried about my parent’s pool and the implications for return holidays when Amy was crawling or walking. Its unfenced and only a few metres from the back of the house which has multiple doors that all open onto a lovely verandah and remain open all day. It was very stressful for me just thinking about how dangerous the pool would be and it was the subject of quite a few discussions with Mum and Dad. Two years later we booked tickets to return home to South Africa for Christmas, Amy was three and a half and Stella was 6 months and nearly crawling. Mum made the decision to put in a pool net despite it having to be drilled into her gorgeous tiles. Here in Australia it is illegal to have an unfenced back yard pool!

Up to this point Amy had had three sets of swimming lessons, one term at six months with me in Australia, another term with Ron when she was 18 months old and then just before we went to South Africa she had another 6 weeks of lessons. But the key here was that these lessons weren’t to teach her how not to drown, they were to teach her how to swim. Here in Australia there is a difference between these two types of swimming lessons. You can take your baby/toddler/preschooler to the kind of swim school where the aim is to get them floating on their back, fully dressed and able to hold onto the edge of the pool for self-preservation purposes, or you can take them to a swimming school where they aim to teach them the basics of swimming, without using flotation devices. We always wanted swimming to be fun and the media/press for the swim schools where they chuck them in the pool and teach them how not to drown always seemed to be quite extreme.

So, at three and a half Amy was happy to put her face in the water but she didn’t like swimming underwater or jumping in without someone right there to catch her. She was happy to play in the shallow end but didn’t really want to venture any deeper. On holiday to South Africa she swam everyday but only on her terms and if we suggested she try anything she wasn’t comfortable doing, it often ended in tears and unhappiness all round. Now that we have Stella too I realise that this is as much a personality thing as it is exposure to water. I have no doubt that if Amy had been attending swimming lessons weekly since an early age she would be a much better swimmer but what I also realise now is that Amy just doesn’t like the water that much. And this is made evident by just how much Stella LOVES the water! In all its incarnations, shower, bath, ocean, pool. She happily swims underwater, puts her face in and blows bubbles, floats on her back, spends hours in the shower, hates getting out of the bath. All very different to Amy. Right from day one Amy didn’t like to bath and then there was that whole phase we went through around 18 months to two years where she absolutely flat out refused to bath or put her head underwater. In fact she still cries when she has to have a shower, its a personality thing.

So, in conclusion, you can teach a child to swim, but you can’t make them enjoy it. I think swimming should be fun and serve a purpose but I also realise now that no matter how confident my children are in the water, I still wouldn’t be comfortable spending time somewhere that had an unfenced pool in the living space, children are unpredictible and accidents can happen in your own bath water. Sadly. That said its quite amazing seeing how much Amy is enjoying her lessons this time around. She is clearly not as advanced as the other three children in her class but she gives it her all and has a smile on her face and is very proud of herself afterwards as she tells us how she put her face in and went all underwater and did good kicking. Her swimming is improving so much now that we have booked her in for a week’s intensive lessons in January before Preschool starts up. Right now swimming is something fun that she is really enjoying and we want to capitalise on that.

 It goes without saying that Stella loves her swimming lessons. She did swim a little on holiday in South Africa last Christmas but hadn’t actually been a pool since then! However, her first lesson and the instructor thought she must have been doing lessons previously, she floats happily on her back, kicks with intention (Amy is still learning this!) and goes underwater without complaining whereas I remember actually asking the instructor not to dunk Amy at the same age because it just ruined the rest of the lesson! We are all looking forward to spending lots of time in the water this summer, maybe not the pool so much, but definitely the beach!

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