The first baby swimming class is a rite of passage – as much for Mom as it is for Baby. I have attended many mom-and-tot swim classes, much to the detriment of my self-esteem. Putting a bathing suit on my post-pregnancy body and wearing it in a public place with ultra-bright lighting wasn’t exactly a confidence booster. Still, I tried to set aside my body image issues and embrace the aquatic one-on-one discovery time with my baby. However, after mustering the courage to get to the pool, you’re really only halfway there. Surviving swim class means surviving everything that comes with it.
At the start of an eight-week session, a friendly teenaged guy introduced himself as our instructor. I looked around, but there were no other moms, and no other tots – no one else at all in the pool area. The class had no other registrants. Week after week, the shirtless teenager and I harmonized poorly on “The Fishy-Wishy Song” and counted the minutes until we could escape the palpable awkwardness.
I made the mistake of registering for another class with a start time of 8:30 a.m. Barely awake, I purposely dressed in my oldest clothes, since they were likely to end up on the floor in a puddle of chlorine-saturated water. However, there was a mom who arrived every week in full makeup, with blow-dried hair, wearing a stylish yoga outfit. While I trudged bleary-eyed around the “Motorboat, motorboat” circle, she glided gracefully, never even getting a splash on her gold hoop earrings. Curiously, I didn’t notice anything about her baby. Maybe it was a plastic doll – that would explain all her free time.
Amid the upbeat songs and floating toys, there is an unspoken expectation to “dunk” your baby fully under the water. My kids were visibly tense at the prospect of being submerged, and I disliked the peer pressure. Some parents seemed to employ the strategy of piling on the happy praise in an attempt to convince the baby that dunking is a fun and glorious event. I witnessed one mom put on a post-dunk celebration spectacle that would have been excessive even if her six-month-old had beaten Michael Phelps in the 200-metre butterfly.
The insurmountable task of getting both of you out of your drippy suits in a timely manner should not be underestimated. Quite simply, one of you is going to freeze. My thoughtful gesture to put my son’s needs first backfired when he started wailing once his sleeper was zipped. I instinctively picked him up to comfort him, snuggling him right against my wet bathing suit. More wailing ensued as I hurried to dry off and get my pasty limbs covered up as quickly as possible.
At the end of a session, I am always nervous to receive my child’s certificate or “report card”. Below the cute little checklist, my stomach would sink at pointed comments like “He should practise putting his face in the water more” or “He seems happy to swim, as long as he gets to play with the purple boat.” My glee at finally being recommended to enroll in “Adult and Tot Advanced” was cut short when I discovered that it only means “Your child is now too old for regular Adult and Tot”.
This spring, I had the surreal experience of taking my youngest to his first solo swim lesson. The significance of the milestone washed over me as I sat dutifully in the viewing area. As his class ended, the next group came on to the pool deck – a collection of moms holding babies. It was time to let the tradition be carried on by the next wave of moms who, like me, were willing to put their personal comfort aside for their baby’s benefit. We are the few, the proud, the swim class heroes.