In Australia swimming lessons are often seen as a crucial part of growing up; our major cities located at the edge of beautiful bays and beaches. It is how we get our cool, surfie, bogan, beach-babe persona.
First, it is about making our children feel at ease in the water. Swimming lessons start from six months of age, furious splashing and self-conscious singing of nursey rhymes. With a ‘Humpty Dumpty had a great fall’ or a ‘Crocodile. Crocodile. Snap. Snap. Snap’ into the water they go – (unless your child has, of course, missed the cue, is busy filling their swim-pants or has taken a step back, just out of reach, in order to fraternise with someone else’s mum, dad, grandparent, or sibling sitting on the sidelines).
In order to feel a sense of calmness in the water, our children are made to walk the plank while the other toddler-babies thrash about, destabilising their platform. Most toddler-babies choose to rip off the Band-Aid quickly, bolting across the mat and plunging into the arms of a near-stranger. For others, the fear is more debilitating. With little co-operation, a cat with claws, clinging to their owner, they are begrudgingly placed on the mat, stubbornly shifting their weight to become the opposite of buoyant and refusing to move an inch.
When the child begins to show some confidence, we see this as the ideal time to drive them head first into the water. This is usually followed by a look of terror or resentment (but no longer surprise) as they are fully submerged under water. Parent and swim instructor laugh, as the child resurfaces with a splutter and a cough. ‘Aww, did you forget to blow bubbles?!’ Then, like Scooby Doo, the child leaps into Mum or Dad’s arms, hitching their whole body around their parent’s shoulders.
We swim from one edge of the pool to the next, chanting ‘Paddle and kick! Paddle and kick!’ before turning the child onto their back to gently float across the pool, a request meant to instil a sense of calmness, but is somehow translated into ‘give me twenty stomach crunches;’ the child incessantly lifting their head to meet their knees.
Maybe you have the over-confident child, the one who believes he or she can, in fact, already swim, pushing you away as they fly solo, twirling around in their inflatable ring, as they drift towards the small colourful balls they have been sent to retrieve. Finally, they load up their arms with more balls than they can carry, all of which float away from them before they reach the bucket.
Whatever the case, even with the added hassle of croc-wrestling a toddler-baby on the change table to secure a fresh nappy, there is something about this whole experience that makes this necessary torture a national treasure for all to enjoy.