I love the water. I’ve always felt most at peace near an ocean—but the lake at camp or a swimming pool work too. I’m not a great swimmer though, much to my chagrin, even though I swam daily during my first pregnancy, and dreamed of it daily during my second (my kids are just 18 months apart). Now I’m trying to get to the pool at least once a week for a few laps, while also taking a water aerobics class as part of my post-cancer recovery fitness plan.
But teaching my children to swim is non-negotiable. In fact, I can think of no greater responsibility as a parent than teaching (or in my case, hiring someone to teach) your child to swim. That’s why we have our children in swimming lessons during the winter, and we try to get to the swimming pool as a family as often as possible. Here are seven reasons why:
1. Water is a great equalizer. There’s just something about water that makes speed, ability, or even sporting preference irrelevant. So much fun can happen in the water. Regardless of my children’s swimming levels, they can swim together and have fun. And for those with physical challenges, like our son who has low muscle tone due to Fragile X Syndrome, water takes away most of those challenges. In the ocean, both of our boys jump the waves together; in the pool, they are both eager fish.
2. Floating takes faith. We had been trying for months to convince our 6-year-old to float on his back. He just did not trust his body, or maybe he didn’t trust us! We kept urging him to lie back, breathe, and relax. When he finally did it, his perspective toward his body and his physical abilities totally changed. He could do it. We, his parents and swimming teacher, were right, and he did it. Floating takes faith: in those who love him, in his body, and most importantly, in himself.
3. Water comfort is water safety. If you want your child to be safe, and to be prepared for some potentially dangerous situations, teach your child to swim. No, it won’t prevent every tragedy, unfortunately, but swimming is a basic life skill that could certainly help in many situations.
4. Our bodies are incredible instruments. Learning to coordinate breathing with arm strokes, being able to kick but not splash, and eventually diving into the deep end—all of these skills remind us how powerful our bodies are. True, not everyone can do all of these things (I can’t do any of them yet!), but whatever one’s ability level, water encourages us to keep trying.
5. Summer is around the corner. There’s nothing like showing up for summer camp at the start of the summer having advanced a level or two because of winter swim lessons. And when kids feel good about themselves at camp, they will love camp even more. Our oldest can’t wait to be back at the pool at his Jewish summer camp, so he can test out of the next level and shock his counselors.
6. Water is powerful—for good and for bad. Our bodies are made of water. The mikveh (ritual bath) is filled with water. But hurricanes and tsunamis are also water. Water is powerful. Water can nourish and sustain, but it can also hurt and destroy. Understanding water—how it functions in and around our bodies, and how we function in and around it—is crucial to understanding our place in the world.
7. It’s the Jewish thing to do. In the Talmud, our rabbis state that parents are obligated to teach their children to swim. I imagine the rabbis were thinking of many of the reasons I’ve suggested so far (though I doubt they were sending their kids to summer camp!). But if it was good enough for the rabbis of the Talmud, it’s good enough for me.
I don’t think we’re raising Olympic swimmers, or even swim team swimmers, but we’ll keep bringing our children to swimming lessons, and we’ll continue swimming together as a family whenever we can, so that we might pass this love for water from one generation to the next.