So according to Judaism, I, as a father, am supposed to teach my son to swim. Seriously, it’s right there in the Talmud. A father is supposed to do six things, and one of them is teach his child how to swim.
First of all, let’s hold off questioning this for a while. I mean, yes, it’s an important skill to have, but if I am living in what is primarily a desert-based society, I don’t think I would rank swimming as one of the top six.
Regardless, this particular decree has been on my mind recently. First of all, I read The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, and it’s talked about in there. Secondly, my father pointedly told me about it when we were outside a local JCC and he mentioned that it was written above the pool.
Even though I’m not the most religious person around, I still thought it was a good thing to teach J. Swimming is a really good skill to have these days (especially for those of us who don’t live in a desert), and I wanted to teach him how to do it.
Unfortunately, until recently there were two problems with this. First of all, I’m not necessarily the strongest swimmer. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m tossed off a boat I’ll last for a long while because I can tread water with the best of them. But even though I was a decent swimmer as a kid, as I got older, I got taller. Once I reached my current height of 6’2″, walking in the pool was usually much easier, and any skills I had quickly disappeared.
Second of all, J wasn’t super excited about water for a long time. And from about April until August of this past year, he actively hated it. Whether it was the pool or the beach, he didn’t want anything to do with it. He didn’t really even want to go in the shower or tub.
So I had no idea how I was going to teach my son to “swim” (and really I need the air-quotes around that word considering how I usually do it). At the end of the summer he was a bit better with the whole thing, and my wife tried to encourage some “swimming” in the bathtub, but still, I was at a loss.
And then last week, my parents took us all on a family vacation to St. Thomas. That’s where it all changed. Something totally clicked in J’s head, and the first thing he wanted to do when we got off the plane was to go to the beach. We went to the pool instead, and he started literally shrieking with delight!
Over the next few days, he’d gone from complaining that when his fingers get prune-y, “Something’s not quite wrong!” (Yeah, I’ll teach him about double-negatives another time) to laughing about it. He would get into the water, beach or pool, and immediately want to play. There happened to be a kickboard, and he is already working on figuring out how to kick on it.
I can’t take all of the credit. My wife did just as much (if not more), but the change is there, and we are, in essence, starting to “teach” him to swim. Obviously he can’t fully swim yet, but the goal of teaching my son to swim definitely seems doable now. The next step are actual swim lessons I guess, and we’ll see how his “feisty” temperament holds out for that.
In the meantime, I’ll count it as a success.
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