I have two young sons under six, so I’ve spent more time than I would otherwise care to admit sitting around public swimming pools on the weekend, while an assortment of patient instructors have tried in vain to teach them both to swim.
It’s kind of boring and embarrassing (YES, MY FIVE YEAR OLD DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO SWIM WITHOUT FLOATIES YET, SO SUE ME), so I tend to pass the time by people-watching and putting my sociology degree to good use (YES, I JUST USED “SOCIOLOGY DEGREE” AND “GOOD USE” IN THE SAME SENTENCE, SO SUE ME).
Here’s what I discovered. There are nine types of kids at swimming lessons:
The Misbehaver is a chronic time-waster, forcing weary instructors to employ a battery of ineffectual behaviour management strategies in an attempt to secure their compliance. They deliberately splash the other kids in the face, wander off, refuse to participate, jump in the pool when it’s not their turn, hang off the teacher’s neck, tussle with the other kids, refuse to follow instructions and basically act like annoying little so-and-so’s in dire need of firm boundaries. Their parents mostly fail to intervene because they are glued to their phones, deep in conversation or sucking down a coffee at the cafeteria because they obviously do not GAF.
The Scaredy Cat
The Scaredy Cat is afraid of water and will wail as though they are being dipped into a vat of sulphuric acid whenever the teacher attempts to submerge them. They will bob around for the entire lesson with a miserable look on their faces and burst into periodic bouts of anguished tears if so much as a single drop of water makes a beeline for their face. Their parents are the ones slumped in wordless defeat by the side of the pool, counting the many ways they have clearly failed to equip their child for the petty inconveniences that life will throw at them.
The Tantrummer refuses to get into the pool without throwing the kind of full-body dummy spit that draws the ire of every single adult within a 500 metre radius. They regard the water with abject terror, as though Satan himself was about to somersault into the deep end and devour the innocent souls of several dog-paddling toddlers before hopping out en route to the spa. Their parents are easy to spot, because they are the ones physically manhandling their screaming child into the pool. Swimming lessons are important – even if they traumatise your child for life. And if the child isn’t traumatised, the instructor certainly will be after they’ve been repeatedly belted in the face by tiny fists.
The Lucky Dip
The Lucky Dip kid is the eternal enigma of the pool. Some weeks they will take to the water like they are training for the 2024 Olympics, and other weeks they will strenuously object, like they couldn’t possibly enjoy an activity that requires them to swim around in a bacterial soup of other people’s body fluids. Other weeks – inexplicably – they will resist getting into the pool with the ferocity of an evil demon trying to avoid contact with holy water; all flailing limbs, gnashing teeth and wild shrieking. If these kids were in a Facebook relationship with swimming lessons, the status would read: “it’s complicated”.
The Happy Splasher
The Happy Splasher can’t swim for shit, but boy do they enjoy it. With complete disregard for their own personal safety, the Happy Splasher wants IN the pool and they want it NOW. They have no time for pesky floatation devices or any other precautions that might just keep them alive: they want to SWIM, dammit, and they are not going to let a little thing like “not knowing how” stop them. Their long-suffering parents can be found poised anxiously at the edge of their seats, arms stretched outwards and calf muscles flexed for the inevitable rush to rescue when their kid launches themself off the side of the pool.
The Child Prodigy
The Child Prodigy is the kind of kid who was already working on their backstroke in the womb – nature’s heated pool. It’s the two year old who struts up to the pool without floaties, executes a perfect swan dive and swims 50 metres without flagging, before making a flawless flip turn at the end of the pool on the return lap. You will know who their parents are. They are the ones with the smug look of superiority and the condescending sneer in the general direction of the parents whose five year old still flips out when their eyebrows get wet. *ahem, coughs*
The Stealth Bomber
Beware the Stealth Bomber. No-one wants to be the parent of the kid that poops in the pool. No one. Change your name and move suburbs. Dob in the ringleader of a major drug syndicate so you can join the Witness Protection Program. Move to Borneo and set up a charity for orphaned orangutans. Go off-grid and survive on a diet of carpet beetles, roadkill and rainwater. Disown your family and relocate to a silent monastery in rural Tuscany. Do what you have to do. Your other somewhat less appealing option is to continue turning up to swimming lessons every week, forever known as “the parent of that feral kid who shit in the pool”.
You won’t see much of the Snorkeller, because he or she will spend most of their swimming lessons face down in the water, completely oblivious to everything else that is going on. Their attendance is essentially pointless – and disruptive to the other kids in the class – because being arse-up means that they don’t hear the majority of instructions and the teacher spends most of the class dragging them out of the water by the scruff of their rashie. In one of those not-so-shocking twists, their parents tend to ignore the fact that their kid is ignoring the teacher.
The Absent Child
The Absent Child is the source of heated debate. Nothing inspires frothy-mouthed moral panics quite like parents who haven’t signed their children up for swimming lessons. If you don’t have your newborn baby enrolled from the very minute they evacuate their bowels for the very first time you are basically setting them up for a lifetime of failure, lost opportunities and misplaced resentment because they will never make the synchronised swimming team at school. Or something.