Before my kids and I became regulars at the local swimming pool, the odor of public pool chlorine would always send me a chilling little reminder of the terror I used to feel during the obligatory swimming lessons of my school years. This fear permeated my life such that swimming lessons were always an ordeal for me. From tiny me in grade one clutching the edge of the pool, knuckles white, refusing to go into the water. To high school me, adept at avoiding pretty much every swimming lesson via every semi-plausible excuse I could think of.

Once, I gave the PE teacher a signed note from my mum saying I couldn’t do the lesson because I had a cold sore, which totally pissed her off. On and on she went. She said the word “fallacy” a lot. I held steadfast to the argument that my cold sore could get infected if I put my lip in the water. Now I get it. She probably meant that my cold sore excuse was total bollocks because there would be no chance of anything surviving in a pool with a 90:10 ratio of chlorine to water.

I guess I had a little bit of curiosity about swimming because casual visits to the pool in the summer – with no teacher around to try and make me do things I found too scary – gave me the opportunity to try things out at my own pace. I taught myself to sort of paddle, float on my back, and jump into the deep end.

And sometimes we do a thing that is totally out of synch with how we feel about something. At the swimming carnival in year seven, they were looking for someone to fill in for the backstroke race. For some reason, I wound up in the middle of all the haranguing. Something inside me clearly thought I was capable because when the house captains turned their attention on me and asked me if I could do backstroke, I said yes. Then it wasn’t much of a leap to get me to do it.

I’ll never forget standing on the starting block. I tried to talk to the girl next to me but she just ignored me. Then she jumped into the water and so I did too. I liked the way the deep water pushed me back up to the surface. Then the race started and we were off. I was backstroking my little heart out then suddenly my arms got really tired and I had to be pulled out of the water. My house didn’t win that day and neither did my dignity.

I think my motivation was a mixture of not wanting to let the others down and a feeling that I could do it even though I had never trained for backstroke – let alone any stroke – in my life. Nevertheless, I am proud of 13 year old me. I did something that was completely out of synch with my usual fear; I raced for my home team and for a few short seconds, I was a swimmer. I think that had someone, off the back of that incident, taken me under their wing and taught me how to swim, I would’ve taken to it. My reasoning being that even though I was scared of the water, I somehow also wanted to conquer it.

Fast forward a few decades and I am a regular patron of the local pool with my 4 year old son. Funnily enough, the pool we visit is the same as the one from my childhood, but that old familiar waft of chlorine no longer invokes in me that same old terror.

It’s a new beginning. I have left my young self behind and have taken on the responsibility of being a parent. And so I take my son’s hand and together, we explore the water. It takes time and dedication to do this. I’d much rather be warm and dry at home. But I don’t want my kids to suffer at the pool in the same way I did as a kid. Not out of fear of the unfamiliar or burdened by the gumption to stretch further but with no recourse to do so.

I watch but never interfere, letting my son be whilst being there for him. He has no teacher to contend with, no pressure to be this or that, and no-one else’s standards to live up to other than his own. And so these days, the pool is a FUN time!

Not that I want to live through my kids or make it their job to fix the frustrations of my childhood. Just that in this instance, I want that toxic fear of the swimming pool to end with me.

My son has no attachments to the smell of pool chlorine.

It is a new beginning.
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