Life and swimming lessons

C.M. Denis

I was born and raised in Hawaii. Most people who hear this react in the same way. They immediately assume that 1) I love the water and 2) I love to swim. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I can’t stand the water. I don’t even like bathtubs. As for swimming? I didn’t learn until I was 10, when my mother threatened me with Dire Consequences if I didn’t go to swimming lessons. In those days, when Mom threatened Dire Consequences, you didn’t even ask what they were. You just knew there were capital letters in there, and you wanted nothing that had anything to do with capital letters. Capitals were bad. Period.

So, I went to swimming lessons. I can still remember standing in line that first day, waiting to get signed up. I was pretty sure I was being sentenced to death. The signup line stretched from the pool entrance all the way around the brick wall surrounding the pool, to the parking lot.

There had to have been at least 40 people in front of us (which, for our small town, was a crowd). It was hot, and I wanted to be at home, under a tree, reading a book, no water in sight. But those capital letters reared their ugly heads every time I thought about bolting, so I sucked it up and signed my dry, book-reading, tree sitting summer away on the dotted line (or rather, mom did, but the concept is the same).

I’ll admit the lessons were tolerable. The instructor was nice, I made some friends and wonder of wonders, I learned to swim. I can’t say I enjoyed it, or had any real talent for it, but it also taught me patience and got me some exercise I otherwise wouldn’t have had. Still, I often wondered, growing up, why Mom made me learn to swim in the first place. Even if we were surrounded by an ocean, I didn’t care to go anywhere near it (or any other body of water). So why was swimming important?

Well, I didn’t find a satisfactory answer to that question until I was in my 30s. That’s when my daughter started walking and having her own opinions. One of her first opinions? She loves the water. Adores it. Swims like a fish. But she doesn’t want to learn other important things like hiking skills. Once she is older, I will bring out the Capitol Letters and she will have to learn them, though, because we are in a desert and they are important to know. For now, though, I get to spend every summer, all summer, at the pool. The universe has a perverse sense of humor sometimes.