Boy Charlton was a world champion Australian swimmer during the 1920s and 1930s. Though my eldest Boy Charlton has always loved water, his water skills bare no resemblance to that of his namesake. When it comes to the pool, he is frantic and awkward.
This week the Boy was back into swimming lessons after the school holiday break. It was a new class, new level, new teacher, new day and time. Normally the boy is right into new. New toys, new adventures, new playmates and his mind is racing. New challenges also make his mind race, but in an entirely different direction. Panic!
We arrived early and took our place poolside. I could feel his sweaty, sticky skin against mine as we sat on the wooden bench and watched the classes before his. He pulled on his goggles and turned to me for help. His face was all nostrils and exaggerated goggle features: his mouth was tight-lipped as his breaths wheeshed out in strained, audible breaths.
The classes finished on the half hour and the pool emptied. In a flurry of towels and parental arms wrangling small, wet bodies, I craned my neck to look around for his new teacher. As I reached the tiled edge of the pool, I heard someone call a name, “Lisa!” Lisa: this is not our woman. We are after someone called Sam.
I did a head check. There were four classes in the pool. Toddlers: no. Babies: no. Lisa in the middle: no. Oh crap. His class must be up the deep end.
I did my best to be cool and calm. He’s never been up the deep end before: he’d be in way over his head.
“Hiya, are you Boy Charlton?” the teacher spoke in a singsong Yorkshire accent.
He nodded, goggles still on firmly, his mouth breathing now very apparent, like a snorkeler, sans snorkel.
“Boy 1, this is your teacher Sam. She is going to teach your lesson and I am going to sit here with your brothers and watch. Ok?” The singsong accent is catching.
He hovers in a puddle by the pool edge. There are two other students – both girls, both older – already in the pool, swimming. Actual swimming! He hesitates before he enters. There is no step, no ladder. Just as he bends forward to slip into the water, he rises and goes to the other side of the lane.
“OK Boy, jump in!”
A moment of hesitation, followed by Splash! He holds the rail as the girls carve up the lane with confidence. He can’t touch the bottom, instead he bobs up and down in their wake like flotsam.
“Ok Boy, your turn.”
He pushes off the side and his legs trail behind him like seaweed. His head stays above water – just – as he does his best impersonation of freestyle. Sam encourages him to keep his tummy up, but he is bottom heavy, and struggles to get momentum to lift his body, while kicking and stroking and breathing. So much to remember: he looks like he is limping through the pool, awkward and unbalanced, like a windmill with a missing blade. I realise I am holding my breath. He makes the end of the 10-metre lane, and we both take a big breath.
The girls glide through the water. Clearly they are more advanced. But as the lesson progresses, I realise something is happening. He doesn’t cling to the lane rope. He always does the full lap before stopping. And he is listening intently. He seems determined and calm, despite being well above his head. By the last few laps, he spends more time with his head above water, and he’s managing to breath in between strokes.
After the lesson I ask him “Were you worried about being in the deep end?”
“No. Can I have a snack?”
What kind of swimmer are you? Do you jump in the deep end, or do you hover by the edge?