A few weeks ago, Big Brothers/Big Sisters organized a pool and waterslide activity at the Holiday Inn in Lakeville, which I knew my Little would be really excited about because her summer plans to go to a waterslide with her family had never worked out. So I was all gung-ho about it, and really pleased when we got to the hotel because it's kind of the perfect mini-waterpark- not too big or crazy, but with enough stuff to keep the kids interested. We got all ready to jump in and I asked the Little if she wanted to start with the slide, but then she said, "Is it deep at the end? I'll just watch you come down." At first I thought she was just wanted to see someone else go first, but she still didn't want to go after I did. So we started at the shallow end. And as I watched her hesitate to get her head wet, and then awkwardly dog paddle a few strokes before standing up again, I felt like a complete ass. The kid can't swim.
I never realized that I took it for granted that every kid knows how to swim. Obviously, that's not true, because people drown, duh, but it never crossed my mind to even ask my Little in advance. I knew she'd wanted to go to the slide last summer, and she had a bathing suit, so the thought never entered my head. But having a bathing suit is not the same thing as having spent a zillion hours at the Y as a guppy, and then a minnow, and on and on through all the silly levels like I did when I was little. I just... forgot. I forgot the process of learning to swim.
I didn't know until a few years ago that at the same time my brother and I started swimming lessons (which was probably shortly after we were out of diapers), my mom took lessons too. She grew up on a farm where swimming opportunities were rare, and she had a bit of a water phobia. But after Jon and I came along, she knew that she had to get over it because she didn't want us to pick up the same fear. (I learned all of this from my dad, who loves to talk about how proud he is that my mom did it. She would never volunteer this information.) And swimming turned out to be one of my favorite-favorite-most-favoritist things to do as a kid, and I was on the swim team in grade school, and every summer my brother and I got season passes to Southside pool and I swam so much that my hair turned green and I wore out my bathing suits.
So I'm grateful to my parents for taking me to lessons, and it's sad to me that it's not that way for every kid. And I know that swimming is not a written-in-stone requirement for a happy childhood, but it's such a simple pleasure, and I worry sometimes that the Little is not allowed to be a real kid as much as she should be. Example: In the five months that I've known her, two of her neighbors have been murdered. When I think about what her worldview must be, compared to mine when I was her age, I feel guilty. I never knew I had the world by the tail.
In Big training, they tell you not to think about these things on such a grand scale, or you'll feel like you're never doing enough to make a difference in your Little's life. You're supposed to just be a friend. A friend who doesn't smoke crack and has never been incarcerated. So that's what I keep coming back to.
The Little ended up having a great time at the pool, which had a maximum depth of four feet, so it didn't take much coaxing to get her to go down the slide. But she's a brave peanut. She would have done it regardless.