I spend the summer sitting in the shade, watching four year old Zachary somersault under water, swimming like a porpoise every afternoon. I hold a novel in one hand, a bottle of water in the other. I might look inactive, but I am busy growing a human being. On Labor Day, the last day the pool is open, I send my husband with the boys to swim. I tell him that I just need to rest a little and then I’ll join them. Instead, I go into labor, call the midwife and two hours later, give birth to a baby girl in a rented birthing tub in the privacy of my bedroom.
My baby girl hates the water. I purchase one of those complicated baby floating devices, dress her in a cute swimsuit with flouncy skirt. I wrangle her into the float and she is screaming before her toes even touch the water. She hates the pool. Every time I dip her into the pool, she screams her hatred of all things wet. (In contrast, a baby boy six weeks younger floats placidly in the middle of the pool, bobbing along.) By the end of the summer, I spend my time at the pool crouched over, holding her hands so she can practice walking her around the concrete. She still rebuffs my attempts to introduce her to the joys of the water.
She’ll be two soon. This is the summer she goes into the pool–as long as I am also in the pool with her. I spend a lot of time sitting in the baby pool, water at shoulder level. She clings to me, my own personal koala baby. One day, I’m in the pool while my husband sits on the side visiting with invited guests. Their two year old is also in the pool, but he loved the water and was unafraid. Meanwhile, I had to be in the pool with my cautious daughter. Suddenly, the boy’s mom called his name. His father splashed into the pool and scooped up their son who had been floating face down, only feet from me. (Yeah, way to let the kid drown without even noticing, Mel!) All the same, I had a moment of smug self-satisfaction–that was exactly why I was in the pool within arm’s reach of my daughter. A bit later, my daughter plunged like a rock underwater as I watched, only inches away. She screams, sputters.
She’ll be three at the end of the summer. She likes the pool, but it takes her a few weeks to warm up to the idea of getting in. She spends the summer cringing when other kids splash, turning her face away. She likes to sit on the steps of the big pool and likes for me to get in with her, but most of the time, she is content to play in the wading pool. Sometimes she begs to go come to the pool, then is ready to leave after twenty minutes. I don’t have to get in anymore, much to my relief. By the end of the summer, she finally dips her face into the water and shocking us all, plunges under the surface of the water completely.
She’s three and three-quarters. She picks up this summer where she left off the summer before. She occasionally dips her face into water–while pinching closed her nose–and she doesn’t mind the splashing so much. She’s become a big fan of the pool. At the end of summer, she’s experimenting with kicking and swimming.
She’ll be five by the end of the summer. She teaches herself to swim at the beginning of summer and learns to hold her breath so she no longer has to hold her nose. She becomes obsessed with the diving board and wants to jump but she is too afraid. She walks to the very end of the board, wearing a life jacket, peers over the edge and can’t quite get up the nerve. After several weeks of this, near the end of summer, she finally jumps. Her life jacket helps her bob right back up and she is hooked. From this moment on, she jumps off the diving board with great glee.
She’s five now, but will turn six at the end of the summer. Since the pool closed last September, she’s been asking when it would open again. A week after it opens, she insists she is ready to take the swim test: a swim down the length of the pool, then thirty seconds of treading water. (“Shredding water,” she calls it.) And so, yesterday, that’s what she did. She and her long-time buddy, a fellow five-and-a-half-year-old) both took and passed the swim test.
Now, my baby girl is a swimming fool. She swam for four straight hours today and tonight, when I said, “You look tired,” she didn’t disagree as she usually does. She loves to do various dives off the board.
And I sit in the shade, looking up from my novel occasionally, thankful that I am not seven months pregnant.