This is from a column I wrote for a magazine I edited about local SureStart centres, called Kids & Us. The column, called been THERE, done THAT, was a regular feature in the magazine. It took a light-hearted look at various parenting issues through the eyes of a fictional couple and their young son, Edmund. The incident in this article, however, actually happened at Gosforth pool when my then wife and me took our three year old for his first swimming pool experience. And yes, I did have water in my ears at the time.
* * *
Taking a child to the swimming baths is one of the joys of parenthood. The sight of a water-winged tot bobbing about and gaining confidence is a pleasure in itself, but there is an added bonus in that the production of a child admits the accompanying parent to the luxurious warmth of the little pool.
Many children are introduced to water as babies, and the importance of this was demonstrated to my wife, Maggie, and me, who left our son’s first swimming pool experience until he was three-years-old – and he took to it like a cat to water.
The excited anticipation Edmund had shown on the way there evaporated as soon as he got his hair wet, and he started wailing like a siren. We tried coaxing him by holding his hand going down the steps into the pool, and this was successful while the water was lapping about his ankles. As the water rose, however, he climbed further up my body, clinging to me like a tree frog and with eyes as bulging.
His avoidance of the water brought a laugh from the attendant on her high perch. “We’ve got a right landlubber here,” I told her. What she said in reply surprised me so much I waded straight over to Maggie to relay the news. “The pool attendant says they have a ducking stool for new starters,” I said, “maybe we should book him a session on that.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said.
“It sounds a bit drastic, I agree, but it would get him used to having his hair wet…” Maggie 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 ground as Maggie became ever more scornful till, 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. She swam back towards me wearing that familiar smirk that says you’re wrong. “The pool attendant says they have a duckling school for new starters, not a ducking stool,” she said. I was crestfallen.
I handed the tree frog over to its mother, muttering something about having water in my ears when I spoke to the attendant, and I left for a few lengths of the big pool. I had to get away from the radiant smirk of Maggie and the giggling heap on the high stool.
As I swam along in the comparatively cold water of the big pool, I reflected that this embarrassing episode would never have happened had we got Edmund used to the water as a baby.