First to See the Water

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I’ve been lax lately, blog people, due mostly to a hectic Thanksgiving weekend with my boys and my man. Yes, I know – enough about the man, Lynne. But, this is still new to me, and I’m still amazed that something this good has come my way at this point in my life. So there, cut me some slack, okay? This weekend I’ll be cleaning up the aftermath of the holiday weekend – this place looks like the hobo monkey clubhouse! Meanwhile, back on the blog…

Every summer when we were kids, we had to take swimming lessons. Now, I truly believe that this is an essential skill; something every child should have. Knowing how to do a grande jete, speak Hebrew, or ride a pony isn’t going to do you a lot of good if you fall in the water. Excellent for kids to have outside interests. But, I think that if you don’t have the resources for any other extra-curricular activity, if you can only choose ONE, that you absolutely must make sure your children can swim.

I’m not a strong swimmer. I’m an EXCELLENT floater, though, and I have no fear of deep water. I figure if I ever fall off a boat, I shall simply lie on my back and float until help comes. That’s my plan. Unless I’m only, like, fifty feet from shore, then I’d probably try to swim for it.

Swimming lessons then were quite different from the days when I’d take my own kids in the car, up to the pool at Trent, with the nice, warm changerooms and showers. Lessons were outdoors, then, regardless of the weather. It was Muskoka, remember, and although it is lovely and balmy by times, there are days which are just rainy, cold and miserable in the summer. My older brother and I would trudge up the road to the bus stop, in our flipflops and bathing suits, towels hung around our necks. There were bigger kids there, kids who used to tease us. It was pretty miserable by times. Eventually, a rickety old yellow bus would come to take us out to Kirby’s Beach. Turning the last corner onto the dirt road leading down to the beach, there’d be a chorus of “First to see the water!!!” Every time. “First to see the water!” Inevitably, I suppose, SOMEone was first to see the water. But if you didn’t call it, it wasn’t legit.

We’d break off into our classes. We never got very far, we usually were long gone camping by the time the test came around, so I did pre-beginner and beginner classes two or three times each, and I never did get any further than that. But I gained a sense of comfort in the water, lost my fear, and learned to float and tread water – all good. All you need, really.

But I can, in fact, swim. Not a strong swimmer, as I said, but I’m relaxed and comfortable in the water. We’d swim all summer, camping at Pancake Bay, in cold, clear Lake Superior. We’d hit the beach as soon as we were allowed, and only come out for meals. We’d swim out past the deep part, onto the sand bar, hundreds of feet out and only up to our knees.

There was always a parent watching us, of course. My parents were very cautious of water safety. Sometimes overcautious – my dad told me there were sea snakes out there, knowing that at the time, I was deathly afraid of snakes. I know now they were bits of driftwood; my dad has admitted that he told me that because I was a little too fearless in the water as a child.

When I was very small, we visited my grandparents’ cottage in Dorset – it was high up a cliff above the water, with rickety stairs going down. I had to wear an orange canvas kapok life vest at all times, with “FRONT” stenciled on it, in big block letters, for fear I’d tumble down the cliff and fall in. My Uncle Phil (my great-uncle, my paternal grandmother’s brother) was visiting as well, from California, and took great delight in calling me “Front”, which absolutely enraged me as a kid. But, I still have that bulky, clunky old life vest. It is totally useless, child-sized, meets absolutely no current safety standards. But it evokes for me a time and place, surrounded by family and loved beyond reason.

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