The Making of a Porpoise

It’s that time of the year again. Hot, hot and hotter. And humid to boot. Two months of summer holidays stretch endlessly with nothing more exciting than sitting indoors with holiday homework, the same old puzzles that have been done to death a gazillion times and blocks that really ought to be put away forever.

My kids are bored.

The light at the end of this rather dark tunnel is swimming. Come five o’clock, the household stirs with anticipation, and that includes the maid, the baby and most certainly my six-year-old son.

The Making of a Porpoise

The Making of a Porpoise [Illustration by Anup Singh]

It’s a race to the car, which includes a 10-second gulp-down of a glass of milk, an equally fast change of clothes, and bingo, the entire entourage of babies and bags are in the rear seat.

While I dawdle through locking up the house (so says my son, accusingly), there’s not a peep out of the car. They’re perfect angels. Never have I seen such a cooperative bunch.

Off we go, picking up a couple of cousins on the way (no harm in a little added chaos), and splash! the kids are in the water. All the little ones waddle into the baby pool and big brother boldly goes forth where no little sister can even dream of venturing – The Big Pool.

I might mock the kids for their water fetish, but I’m no stranger to it myself. While wise counsellors keep warning parents not to foist their dreams and desires onto their children, I admit that swimming is one area where I’m guilty of the crime. I want my children to be water babies, confident swimmers who can brave a river, the sea, and most definitely the deep end of a pool.

I never did quite manage it. I spent my childhood yearning to be a good swimmer. But we never had easy access to a club. Summer holidays often went by without us coming even within sniffing distance of a pool. And, although our parents did put us through a coaching class, for which we were dutifully sent, we never did learn swimming properly. While I loved the water, my brother grew to fear it. And a coach threatening to dunk him in the deep end certainly did not help.

Twenty years on, I find history repeating itself in the most shameless manner. Last month, I enrolled my son in a swimming coaching class. One month of coaching and I was assured that my kid would be swimming like a porpoise.

Well, all my porpoise did on the first day of class was to cling to the side of the pool like his life depended on it. The next day, the potential porpoise had tears rolling down. On the third day, he simply would not get in. “The water was too cold, I’m scared, there are not enough lifeguards” (there were four coaches in the water)… the excuses tumbled out of his trembling lips.

Frustrated, I tried to blackmail him into going. “If you don’t go….” Nope. No go. I followed that up with bribery. “After swimming, we’ll…” No way. Finally, his dad intervened. “Let it be. He’ll just get a lifelong fear of water.”

That did it. I suddenly remembered my brother. The wide, frightened eyes as he stepped into the pool. The scratches on the coaches hands as he tried to claw his way out of the frightening depths of water. In a flash, I knew where my son was headed if I continued the way I was.

It’s been two weeks now. He’s been going to the club pool every day, learning at his own pace. I guide him, but there’s no pressure. No unknown coach pulling him into unmanageable depths.

Today, he’s able to float, dog paddle a couple of feet, and playfully dive down to the floor of the pool. There’s no fear. Only the delight of discovering, by himself, the bouyancy of water as it pushes him up whenever he tries to dive down.

He’s now dreaming of lengths, diving boards and the deep end.

And not the kind I almost pushed him into either. Thank god for small mercies.

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