Swimming lessons are a non-negotiable

I saved a kid’s life once.

The Municipality of Sebeka paid me $4.25 a hour to work 40 hours a week at the Sebeka Pool for three months during two summers in the late ’80s, and I remember saving only one kid.

She was about 6, and her siblings were swimming in the part of the pool that was 5-feet deep. She kept skirting her way down the side of the pool with a death grip on the edge, apparently thinking she wanted to be swimming with her sisters even though it was obvious she was in over her head — literally.

More than once, I told her she shouldn’t be going that deep and she should go back to the shallow end of the pool.

But in a crowd of at least a hundred bobbing around in the water in 90-degree heat, she persisted in inching her way back to the deep end.

Maybe I sensed her fear or maybe I was just lucky, but when she slipped and started gulping in water with a look of wide-eyed panic on her face, I zeroed in on her and was there to grab her and pull her to safety. And like a good Scandinavian who can’t let a “I told you so” moment slip by even in the face of tears, I shook a trembling finger at her and scolded her for  going where I told her not to.

To be honest, I hope the community of Sebeka got its money worth because I think I saved a lot more kids from the brink of death by teaching swimming lessons even on cold, cloudy days in early June when being in the pool was a different kind of goose-bumply water torture.

Every kid in America should learn to swim.

In church today during the children’s sermon, the pastor asked the assembled group of people shorter than 4 feet if they were taking swimming lessons this summer. Only half the hands went up.

OK, maybe the other half weren’t listening. Or they didn’t understand the question. Or they had taken swimming lessons during another season.

But while the pastor was teaching a life-or-death lesson for their eternal souls, I was worrying about those kids who didn’t take swimming lessons this summer. Because it’s a life-or-death lesson for their mortal bodies.

I’m not a parent (not a biological parent anyway), so I generally try to keep my opinions about parenting to myself, fully aware that every task looks easier from an outsider’s perspective (“Sure, honey, your kids would eat their vegetables and wouldn’t throw tantrums in Target. But you don’t know until your toddler spits beets all over the kitchen and holds up the 10-item-or-less line because you won’t buy her gum.”)

Still, I spent two summers of my life teaching 5-year-olds how to swim so I feel like I can safely tread in this territory.

If you don’t give your kids a chance to learn to swim, you’re a bad parent.

Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States among children younger than 14 and the leading cause of accidental death for children 5 and under, according to the American Institute for Preventive Medicine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 people die every day from drowning. While some parents go into hysterics about “stranger danger,” only about two kids a week are involved in stereotypical non-family abductions, according to CNN.

A child abduction is a terrible thing, but my point is if you’re teaching your child not to talk to strangers but you’re not taking them to swimming lessons, you’re worrying about the wrong thing.

People drown for a lot of reasons besides a lack of ability to swim — like lack of parental supervision, undertow and consuming alcohol — but the CDC states, “Taking part in formal swimming lessons reduces the risk of drowning among children aged 1 to 4 years.”

To be clear, I didn’t teach 5-year-olds how to swim in the two weeks they bobbed and blew bubbles for a half and hour a day in my classes, but it was a start with the goal being how to breathe in water and float, maybe dog paddle. Nowadays, parents can find swimming lessons for kids a lot younger than 5. A kid really ought to go to swimming lessons for a couple of weeks a year for years in order to learn to swim.

In fact, a kid really ought to wear a swimsuit so much every summer, it fades to white and loses all elasticity because they spend four hours a day at the pool (under the supervision of a parent or at least a lifeguard). That’s how I learned to swim (and eventually teach others to swim) while living in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

If you’re an adult who doesn’t know how to swim, you can get lessons, too. Splashing around in water is great exercise no matter what your physical condition.

Summer is one-third over, but there’s still time. Enroll your kids in swimming lessons and they may learn skills to save their lives.

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6 responses to “Swimming lessons are a non-negotiable

  1. Amen, girlfriend. I’m with you all the way. I just spent the weekend on Coronado beach, California. And let me tell you….if I blogged, I’d be writing a sweltering disgustful thing today about lazy, wretched, phone-addicted fools that call themselves parents. The beach is one giant sandbox. So play with your damn kid, and shut off your damn phone. Makes me so insane how many parents had their faces in their phones… for hours on the beach while their kids beg for their attention, or simply wander off for lack of it. SMILE..mommy wants to put you ‘having fun’ on facebook! OMG. Hugs.

    • minnesotatransplant

      I’m with you. Society — not just teen-agers, and sometimes even me — is addicted to their phones. A real, live person is standing in front of them, and they’re staring into the screen on their phone. It’s not just rude. It’s sad, sad, sad.

  2. I was a lifeguard once too! I had to save two little girls…similar to your story. I also had to save a man that was clearly high and shouldn’t have even been allowed in. He walked off the end of the diving board, sunk to the bottom, and didn’t come up. After a few seconds/minutes, I realized he was coming up so I rescued his wasted butt…don’t think he really even knew what was happening!

    • minnesotatransplant

      Wow! A dive-in-the-pool rescue! Impressive (even though the victim wasn’t). I can’t imagine the adrenaline rush. Thank goodness for life guards. Thank goodness for you!

  3. You said you saved “only one kid.” Do you realize how wonderful that was to some parent? If only all parents thought how truly amazing those little people are! I think Sebeka couldn’t even get a qualified lifeguard this summer. How sad is that when Wadena doesn’t even have a pool to hire a lifeguard for? And, one other thing, if you learn how to swim just a little, you may get to go tubing when you are over 70!

    • minnesotatransplant

      You went tubing? Wow! Impressive. I’ve seen the pictures — those are amazing, too, Dad!

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