Sometimes I think if I could go back in time I would go back to being four. There’s just something about that age that is, well, squirmy!
Four-year-olds still need their moms. They still snuggle. They want to play and the world is still new. They are not yet fully jaded – only a little jaded. They soak in knowledge like sponges and blossom with their new experiences like the biggest, brightest flowers.
Girlchild, who is four, had her first and second rounds of swimming lessons this summer. For the previous year she had joined me on the bleachers at the indoor pool to watch her brother move through some badges and was quite delighted when we suggested she could take lessons when school finished.
Oh, my. What an excruciating wait it was for those lessons to get started less than a week after her last day of school. We counted the days. Then the hours. Then the minutes.
Kids who are Girlchild’s age start with a beginner program, and her first level was Sea Turtle because she is big enough to go in the water without a parent.
Despite the obvious anticipation, I approached the whole thing with a tiny bit of caution because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but kids can be weird. Sometimes, even though they might express unbridled enthusiasm about a thing, it can suddenly become the Most Fearsome Thing in the World and Something To Avoid Entirely.
Sometimes we seek refunds.
This time, though, there was little doubt Girlchild was excited. She couldn’t sit still on the bleachers as we waited to see who her teacher would be. That’s when a fellow named Jeff appeared and called for the Sea Turtles. I am now certain Girlchild would follow him to the ends of the earth and back – or at the very least to the end of the pool and back. Several times, even.
One of my most favourite things in the world is watching a kid “get it.” I remember when Boychild learned to read. In school and at home we worked through letter sounds and spent a long time trying to put it all together. He’d bring home the books to practise at night and we’d settle in and work ever so slowly through those words on the pages.
Then, one night, eureka! It was literally as if a light switch had been flicked on and the boy could read. The words flowed and reading became fun! It is an exciting privilege to be witness to this sort of thing when it happens.
Swimming is a bit like this because there are certain preparations to be made and obstacles to overcome before one really gets it. We watched as, day after day, Girlchild rose to the challenges and eagerly embraced them. We started calling her Esther Williams, in fact, because you couldn’t wipe the grin off her face. When it was her turn to do a task, she was so excited she squirmed in the water with joy, and when she completed it her excitement practically rippled across the water.
For example, at home in the wading pool before her lessons started, Girlchild practised sticking part of her face in the water and blowing bubbles. Putting her whole head under water, however, was a Much Bigger Deal.
It was kind of like that reading thing when it happened – when a little switch was flicked and she realized that not only did nothing bad happen when she did it, but it’s actually kind of fun to go underwater and be fish-like or mermaid-like or Esther Williams-like or what have you.
She can do it and now she does it all the time and it seems to have been a springboard into accomplishing all sorts of wonderful things – such as swimming a few metres without any floaty stuff at all.
She moved on to become a Salamander under Lorel’s care and is ready to move on to the Sunfish level next time. And she’ll still follow Jeff around anywhere, I’m sure.
Oh, to be four again, when the whole wide world is just brimming with these joyful, squirmy, exciting, new things!
Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 5, 2010