Swim Lessons

You know how a song or a taste or a smell has the power to magically take you back to a particular time or place in your life? I just love that. I’ve got quite a few triggers. Lily Allen’s album, Alright, Still, and Gwen Stefani’s The Sweet Escape automatically take me back to the summer I fell in love with my husband. The smell of a new box of crayons legitimately gives me butterflies in my stomach like it’s the first day of school. Just seeing a blue bottle of cold cream makes me feel guilty for not cleaning my flute enough.  One of my biggest triggers, though, is the smell of chlorine. That smell is indelibly linked with two places in my mind: the YMCA and the public pool in Canadian. The pool is the strongest, though, as the chlorine smell in the Y was mostly just a lingery scent in the air, not like at the pool where it clung to everything.


Every time I smell chlorine I can taste the Funyuns and smell the Coppertone.  I can feel the country-kid-in-town-with-no-friends-other-than-my-big-sister-who-doesn’t-want-to-be-seen-with-me anxiety combined with the mom-dropped-us-off-and-we’re-on-our-own excitement. Going to the public pool wasn’t something we did just tons and tons as kids, so the emotions, tastes and smells are incredibly vivid in my mind.


Yesterday was the first day I got to tag along for Mags’ swim “lesson.” (I use quotes because, let’s face it, there’s not much real technique being taught to the three month to three-year-old attendees. Lots of splashing, though.) The moment I walked into the Brooklyn Rec Center my mouth started watering for Funyuns and thumb suckers – I didn’t mention those at first…they were suckers shaped like thumbs (!!!) and for a kid who sucked her thumb on the sly until she was probably ten, they were a dream come true. They also had weird rubber covers so you could save your thumb for later. Quite a strange product, really.


I didn’t really have too much time to indulge in nostalgia, as we had to get Miss Priss and her daddy ready to jump in the pool. I need you to know that Margaret wears a princess bathing suit complete with tutu. Pay attention to the Olympics this summer because princess suits are what all the professional swimmers wear. Just ask Michael Phelps.


I was unaware, but swim lessons for the little bitties consist of a lot of songs and chants. Not only did they do the Hokey Pokey, which is a long-standing favorite of mine, but they start out with a little chant called Motorboat. Now, this was only Mags’ second swim lesson and Vin was late to the last one because of a class he’s taking, so Motorboat was new to both of us. I’m not going to lie to you. When the instructor said, “Okay everybody! Time to Motorboat!” my husband and I locked eyes across the pool and simultaneously giggled like we were in junior high. ‘Cause we’re mature like that.


So, the chant goes, “Motorboat, motorboat go so sloooooow/Motorboat, motorboat go so faaaast/Motorboat, motorboat step on the gaaasss!!!!” at which point, if they’re capable, the children jump off of the side of the pool, into their parents’ arm and proceed to practice kicking to the other side of the pool. At that point, they all reset, do the chant again and come back on their backs.


This whole process is incredibly fun to watch. Mags loves jumping into the water, but still has a bit of apprehension about it, so when she jumps, one leg goes whole hog while the other leg clings to the side of the pool. She’s graceful, that one.


As I’m sure is the case with lots of children’s classes, some of the parents take things a teensy bit more seriously than others. There’s one mom in Mags’ class who holds her arms out to her little girl for the jumping part but puts them down and steps back as soon as the kid jumps. I’m pretty sure this leads to some serious trust issues, but perhaps that’s the least of this little girl’s worries. The same mom forcibly holds her child’s head under the water while saying, and I quote, “Keep your head down! I’ll tell you when you need to breathe!” As the hubz said, we weren’t really aware that this class was intended to train Navy SEALS, but whatevs.


When I was helping our little swimmer out of her suit and back into street clothes, I couldn’t help but be excited by the idea that she’s creating her own triggers every day. There’s no way I’ll ever know which songs or candies or onion flavored corn chips will be the things that shoot my daughter back in time once she’s all grown up, but it’s fun to know that those triggers are developing as we speak. It’s thoughts like these that remind me how special and intricate and fragile her childhood is and how incredibly lucky I am to be a part of it. And I really can’t help but hope that every time she smells chlorine, the first thing that comes to her mind is, “Motorboat, motorboat…” ’cause that’d be only too fitting for the warped childhood we’re giving her.

3 thoughts on “Swim Lessons

  1. Granny

    This made me laugh and cry. And, I can’t imagine you not knowing, “Motorboat, motorboat” because I do. I guess I didn’t pass on all my knowledge to you. It is amazing the triggers that bring back memories. I hung out my sheets this week. Sheets hung out to dry always smell like grass and freshness. It “triggered” the memory of hanging out all the laundry. All the dish towels had to be hung together and taut. Everything else was hung together as well. Sheets were hung on the outside toward the street and the unmentionables were hung on the inside lines. No laundry was EVER done on Sunday. People noted how white the whites were and gave the ladies a “grade” on their housekeeping. Anyone who just hung their wash up loose and willy nilly were considered to be slovenly. I wrestled my sheets on the line with these memories uppermost in my mind. I had one of those deep fitted sheets with elastic all the way around. Now, I’m telling you. I qualified for “slovenly!” I never did get that fitted sheet hung on the line that didn’t look like the sheet hadn’t just been dropped from a plane as it past by my clothes line. Oh, well.

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