I was one of those parents who got suckered into the baby swim classes when Joseph was just three months old. I fell in love with the fantastically staged photographs of babies swimming underwater and I knew that I wanted to experience this was Joseph. This was in addition to the baby signing, massage and any other gimmicky groups we were already attending. Let it be said these groups did not change mine or Joseph’s life. All they served to do was give Joseph a busier social life than my own.
The reality was far different from what I had imagined. Despite his early love of water, his reflux got in the way of this beautiful image I had built in my head. His Dad and I had took it in turns to get in with him initially but in all honesty, I used to get stressed about shifting his milky spew away from the other swimmers so I happily handed over the reins to him.
He seemed to be happy enough in the water but did what he did every day and just saw it as somewhere else to regurgitate milk he had guzzled. We never got any photo shots of him under the water at that point and I concentrated on ensuring the trunks he had to wear (otherwise known as shitstoppers) didn’t allow any deposits in the pool from his rear end. Once he started on the solids, I didn’t think it was fair to subject the other parents to bright orange lumpy spew and we called it a day.
Although that was the end of his swimming lessons for a while, we continued to take him to the pool but the times were carefully selected so as not to cause any problems for him or any other pool users.
When he was a little older, I tried him with lessons at a public pool but he didn’t understand the instructions and had no desire to follow what everyone else was doing, so I called a halt to that. I then found some overpriced 1:1 sessions which he found hard; concentrating for thirty minutes was beyond his capabilities. I was pleased when he started school and the lesson times were in school time. I didn’t feel we were getting anywhere and thirty quid for thirty minutes felt like someone was having my eyeballs out.
Over time, I made numerous calls to various swimming pools to describe Joseph and his needs and hoped that there was somewhere that could accommodate him. Eventually, that place was found and curiously despite me travelling up and down the county, it was at our local pool. They had a group for children with disabilities and two instructors got in the water with the children as opposed to shouting instructions from the side.
I was nervous as I always was, taking Joseph somewhere new. Him not having the language or the communication skills to be able to let anyone know his own needs. He was also still not toilet trained and I worried about him being in swim nappies in the pool. The children who were in the group had a wide range of disabilities and Joseph felt at ease. He responded well to the instructors and seemed happy in that environment.
Joseph was always the name I could hear being called though. Never for being a handful as such, but generally just not doing what he was being asked to. My eyeballs must have spent most of the time rolling at the top of my head, wondering when he would take some instructions rather than seeing it as the Saturday morning splash class. He’d be ok whilst the swim instructors were with him but as soon as they turned their back, it was if he was saying ‘up yours’ and carried on amusing himself.
I recall my ex-husband asking me whether I was wasting my money. For me, it was not just about teaching him those essential skills – it was about the social side and the fact he was ‘swimming’ amongst other children. I’m as stubborn as hell and simply wanted him to just be there.
Joseph didn’t have much desire to swim across the pool when it was shallow enough to walk. I mean, why would you expend anymore energy than you need to? I kept telling them they needed to lower the pool floor so he couldn’t touch it with his feet, but I think they were reluctant to and had to consider the other children swimming in the pool at the same time. I decided to take matters into my own hands and the next time I took him swimming at my gym pool, realised it wasn’t shallow enough for him to walk. There’s an old saying called ‘sink or swim’. Well, that was the method I decided to employ that day. Now, I’m not suggesting I threw him in at the deep end to see whether he would sink but I ensured that he followed me across the pool to a point where he would have to swim.
That lazy little boy of mine, happily displayed his doggy paddle across the pool.
I bloody knew he had it in his metaphoric locker, so at his next class assertively asked his swim instructors to lower the pool at the end of the lesson and tell him to swim. The little swine swam the whole 25 metres of the pool and surprised them all.
The next couple of years were hit and miss. He continued to enjoy it but never did more than the bare minimum. (I always say he gets that from his Dad’s side of the family).
Finally, he did progress from that group. The next was still for children with disabilities but there was only one instructor and he was stood at the side of the pool. Again, I was nervous and wondered whether it was just a step too far for Joseph, but he held his own.
He moved up a stage or two but Joseph was never too fussed about it. He wasn’t motivated by another coloured cap or a certificate which meant we just made the usual fuss of him if he’d had a good session.
Without realising it at the time, it became apparent that Joseph’s name wasn’t the one being called from across the poolside to listen. He was following the instructions and seemed to develop more of a swim stroke moving away from his preferred doggy paddle.
The swim school operate a strict rule around swim trunks and wearing a cap but for Joseph’s group, those rules are relaxed. A lot of the other children wear goggles but when Joseph wears them, he prefers to spend more time underwater resembling a dolphin and not listening to anything above the surface so I had to knock that on the head.
We’ve been at this about 5-6 years now and although I’ve periodically questioned the reasoning behind taking him. I wanted to ensure that Joseph did have more than just some basic swimming skills that would see him through any potential emergency. I don’t think I ever considered his own enjoyment, I just wanted to provide him with a basic life skill.
So recently, when I was informed that he would move into the next swim group because he had passed another stage, I was shocked. I didn’t think he would ever move past the level he was at and felt ashamed that again, I had doubted Joseph’s ability.
Today, was only Joseph’s second session with the new group and his Dad and I both watched him which in itself is a rarity. Joseph seemed particularly pleased with us both sat there admiring his swim skills and kept giving us a thumbs up.
Joseph doesn’t have a competitive streak or a huge desire to please others, so when I saw him telling his instructor that he was winning, I did have a large grin appear across my face. I still think he doesn’t listen as well as he should and he let the other children set off first to see what stroke they were doing and then copied.
What astounded me today was that the child smoothly gliding across the pool without any frantic effort was my son.
He is no longer the child who cannot follow instruction.
He is no longer the child who doggy paddles the width of the pool or walks across when nobody is looking.
Today, he IS Joseph the swimmer.
Today, we are are so very proud.