Harry learned how to swim t’other day. On Tuesday 5th June, during our wet and rather disappointing June, the Triangle at Burgess Hill seemed like a little slice of Heaven or, at the very least, a distraction that would knacker the kids.
Let’s face facts here, you don’t always make choices based on the educative or illuminating degree involved for your lovely children. Sometimes you just want something that will tire them out and shut them up. Swimming is great for that. Truth is it’s always a bit hairy with my two youngest for the first 30 minutes. Harry does his Alien impersonation and crouches on my chest like a blonde face-hugger and Caitlin generally eyes us suspiciously, as though we’ve deliberately immersed ourselves in loud and thrashing water merely to spite her.
Luckily it got better. Within half an hour Harry had decided that he’d risk the odd unclench and we even got to the stage where he would hold our hands and float a bit. To be fair, we’re not terribly pushy parents and his swimming attire at the moment counts a variety of floats all positioned in little pouches along his torso and two luminescent armbands, presumably in case we stayed in so long it grew dark. Allowing me to breathe occasionally wasn’t too much to ask for, I felt. Luckily, it wasn’t a huge step from this to the stage where he suddenly remembered the old ‘jumping off the side’ malarkey. Up out of the water he clambers, his spindly legs kicking as he beaches himself, then it’s 1-2-3 and HWAAH! as he launches himself into a belly-flop. As a proud dad I love it. As a relatively objective soul I can still sympathise with that woman behind me the first time who was trying so hard to keep her hair dry. Sorry. Still, you can’t make a splash without breaking a few…bits…of water. And besides, she had that kind of hair that looks equally good dry or wet. Not that she could see, as she had 2.3 litres of chlorinated water in her eyes. Sorry. Again.
As is always the case Harry became more and more confident. At times, a tad too confident. I’m not making excuses, but in a massive swimming complex like The Triangle it is easy to sometimes lose your focus for a millisecond. One particular millisecond happened when Sarah tried to show me how incredibly relaxed Caitlin had become. Only an hour had passed and already she had moved from a paranoid hatred of the whole experience to merely a hatred of the entire experience. It wasn’t much, granted, but she no longer appeared to think that we were trying to kill her. Well, when you’re a parent, sometimes you have to…and that was when Harry jumped. I did hear the HWAAH! at least and so kind of, sort of, almost got to him before he sank to the bottom. In a way.
He hit the water and scrabbled back into my waiting arms with all the grace of a disabled hedgehog trying to eat oysters. With chopsticks. However, they do say that mistakes engender progress. Newton muttered as much as he dusted down his jeans after a long day sitting under the uninspiring orange tree at the back of his girlfriend’s flat. And I like to think that my momentary lapse led to some unfathomable butterfly effect, see diagram. To cut a long story short, before too long Harry was leaping, HWAAH!-ing, splashing and sinking for all his worth until, miraculously, as he tried this for the umpteenth time with Sarah he suddenly found himself to be adding ‘bobbing’ to an already unwieldy list of adjectives. The fact that he would bob without aid to the top of the water was not surprising by itself; the amount of floats he had on would probably budge the Titanic. But once, just once, he bobbed and found himself not pleading for the itching hands of his mum. He realized that he could do it all on his own. The rest of the afternoon he merrily doggy-paddled about, slapping the water and kicking his legs like a German clubber bodyshocking to Kraftwerk. Not pretty, not coordinated, not particularly easy to see how it works. But eminently successful.
OK, so perhaps ‘learned how to swim’ is pushing it. It’ll be a while before he has to meet David Walliams for advice (thank you God), but he’s taken a first, major step. The problem we’ll have now is trying to halt his progress as he already has a sense of his own independence that would make a baby turtle take stock. But it’s still pretty fantastic and still pretty damned exciting. Get down to Ladbrokes and stick a fiver on him winning Gold in the Cardiff 2028 Olympics. Alright, a quid then. It’s worth a shot.
Dave Fouracre aka "Dave the Dad" is a regular feature writer & blogger for TheBabyWebsite and is Dad to two sons and a daughter!