It's a universal truth that raising a child brings regular milestones that are forever treasured. Which parent doesn't recall with great fondness their child's first steps and first words? Who doesn't smile at the recollection of that wobbly ten-yard ride on a bicycle unaided? And who doesn't sigh in pleasure when viewing those first-day-at-school photos that seem like they were taken only yesterday? Yep, parenting milestones are there to be savoured and revisited time and again for a lifetime.
So it was with some excitement that my wife Heather and I prepared to take our three-year-old son Edmund on a trip that would chalk up one such milestone, his first swimming pool experience.
The youngster was as keen on the idea as we were, and I couldn't wait to see him frolicking in the pool. Heather and I agreed that familiarising Edmund with water at an early age would be a great way to instil confidence. Indeed, I had envisaged Edmund overcoming any water-based anxieties he may have had, and bravely taking the plunge like he was on a Nirvana album cover. Sadly, this never happened, and it pains me to report that Edmund took to swimming like a cat to water.
Once changed into our swimming costumes, the three of us gathered by the junior pool and I looked forward to splashing around in its luxurious warmth. Heather and I each held one of Edmund's hands and we began a careful descent of the steps in the shallow end of the pool, uttering gentle words of encouragement as we went. Our son's hitherto enthusiastic anticipation for the project evaporated as soon as we moved down to the second step and water began lapping about his ankles. Edmund pulled away from Heather, and he clung to me with both hands.
As I moved down the steps, Edmund climbed further up my body. At one point during his ascent, he got a firm foothold in the waistband of my trunks and the unexpected appearance of a full moon caused the pool attendant to chuckle on her tall stool. By the time I reached the bottom of the steps, Edmund was clinging to my upper arm in the manner of a tree-frog, and with eyes as bulging. Then, a more amphibious child jumped into the pool and the resulting splash threw water over Edmund's hair and he began wailing like a siren, which brought further laughter from the attendant.
"We've got a right landlubber here," I said, joining in her laughter. What she said in reply surprised me so much that I waded straight over to Heather to relay the news. "The pool attendant says they have a ducking-stool for beginners," I said, "maybe we should book Edmund a session on that."
"Don't be ridiculous," she said.
"It sounds a bit drastic, I agree, but if it gets him used to being in the water, then- " Heather stopped me in my tracks.
"A ducking-stool is an instrument of torture," she said. "Putting a child on one would traumatise it for life; they would never go near water again."
I held my corner, telling Heather I know what I heard. Then, in order to settle the matter, she swam over to the pool attendant. A few moments later, the sight of the pair of them laughing had me questioning the validity of my statement. Heather swam back towards me wearing a familiar grin; the one that says you're wrong. "They don't have a ducking-stool," she said, "they have a duckling school for beginners."
I handed the tree-frog over to his mother muttering something about having water in my ears at the time, and I left for a few lengths of the colder adult pool as a form of penance, away from the radiant smirk of Heather and the giggling heap on the high stool.
(Originally published in Medium)