“I’m only doing this because I love you.”
Oh, that old parental chestnut. I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be employed with increasing frequency as E gets older. It appears to be a part-apology / part-excuse for inflicting some hideous action or discipline on your off spring, whilst maintaining a veneer of altruism… I am warming to it already. Shouting at them for not looking before they cross the road, confiscating the tin opener (which in a house full of toys seems to be unsurpassable in terms of entertainment value for a three year old), yanking their hand away from the scorching hot plate you have just put on the table… in the inevitable tearful, tantrumful aftermath, you utter those words without a second thought.
I used to say it to E after every swimming lesson that we endured. To be fair, he sometimes couldn’t actually hear me say those words being uttered over the screaming fit he was having – on one occasion impressively maintained at an ear-splitting level all the way out the pool, through the changing room and into the car park.
I am not one to give up easily, and gritted my teeth through three sets of lessons, feigning fun and water-based thrills for E’s sake. The very least he could do, I thought, was to feign it back. But no. He seemed to hate every minute. I know I did. But I only made him keep going because I loved him and wanted him to learn to swim so that of the three million ways that the Grim Reaper could do his dastardly deed, drowning would not be one of them. It’s probably back on his list now, several places above ‘falling into a sausage-making machine’ and ‘death by over-consumption of ice cream’ as I have admitted defeat on the lessons. I did the lessons because I loved him, but there is a limit. Which turns out in my case to be twenty-four swimming lessons, sixteen refusals to hold a float, five tantrums and three hard whacks in the face with a yellow woggle.
However, defeat is a relative concept as a parent; I prefer to think of defeat more in terms of simply redefining a strategy. We do still go swimming. I am very keen that E should build his confidence in the water and so most Monday mornings, when saner people are sitting at their desks pretending to be industrious, or at the very least, sitting at home in the warm with their toddler engaged in an activity that involves neither lycra or water, E and I are to be found at the swimming pool. Swimming in the winter. It’s just one up from camping, in my book (that’s the book entitled ‘Things I will never do (oh bollocks, I’ve got a kid)’.
So here we are again, bobbing up and down in the child’s pool. Having failed to persuade him to put arm bands on, he is resolutely holding onto me and I am desperately trying to prevent him pulling my costume straps down thus inadvertently flashing my boobs to the rest of the pool. He is not a fan of arm bands, more’s the pity. I blame his previous swimming lessons, where no one was allowed to wear them. I don’t really understand why – they were part and parcel of learning to swim when I was a tadpole. That and white, crumbly floats with a bite-sized chunk (replete with teeth marks) missing from one of the edges. It seems to me akin to a lot of educational theory these days, where half-baked ideas are introduced as improvement, but turn out to be – well, just crap ideas. It reminds me of nursery, when E was in the baby and then toddler class. Drawing was never referred to as drawing. It was mark making. This pretentious moniker can only, I assume, have been adopted as any numpty with opposable thumbs can make a mark. Blimey, let’s face it, you don’t even need thumbs. Or fingers. Or hands, if it comes to that. Drag a baby or toddler across a piece of A3 paper without their nappy on, chances are a mark will be made. Tick: module accomplished. Whereas drawing sounds a little too much like there is actual skill involved, and under no circumstances should skill be part of education; it may engender feelings of inferiority amongst those who are not gifted with the ability to progress pass skid-marks on the artistic front. Crack. Oh, I do believe that is the sound of my soap box buckling under the weight of my own rhetoric.
Anyway, back to the arm bands, my very own two-fingered salute to the swimming teachers of this parish. I am keen to get him to wear them so that he can experience the joy of floating safely and independently in the water and start to learn to propel himself forward with confidence. Or, so that I can stop exposing my breasts to total strangers and to give my arm muscles a bloody rest from carrying him in the water… I couldn’t possibly say which.
A girl doggy paddles past in her arm bands. “Ooh, look,” I exclaim, “she’s having fun in her arm bands. Do you want to put yours on?”
E nods enthusiastically. Bingo. There is little that peer pressure does not resolve. So now sporting his unwieldy buoyancy aids, he finally lets me go and gingerly allows himself float. He starts to grin manically as he realises what he is doing, and almost a full minute of triumphant floating passes before he gets a tad over-confident and actually tries to move a limb, at which point his head bobs down slightly and he takes in a mouthful of water. Before I can say ‘please don’t grab me there,’ he has clamped himself back on to my straps and I have shown my left mammary to a passing dad. Super.
And then, mercifully, it is time to get out. We get changed and talk happily of the impending trip to the leisure centre cafe, where there is promise of a shared slab of flapjack, the usual treat for being a good boy in the pool. And it is excellent flapjack. Per inch, it is possibly the heaviest substance known to man, with all the structural integrity of reinforced concrete. But boy, is it good. That flapjack, I think, the only bloody reason either of us can stomach the weekly torture, sorry trip, to the pool. All that horrible getting wet, the accidental swallowing of pool water that no doubt contains a large proportion of strangers’ urine, the sheer effort of supporting a three-year-old in the water for forty minutes, the standing on the changing room floor in someone else’s wet patch, the haste to get dry which means your knickers drag reluctantly all the way up your still-damp legs… I do it because I love him. Or perhaps because I love that flapjack. Okay, it might just be the flapjack.