I’ve always liked the idea of teaching kids to read and swim as soon as possible. Apart from any other considerations – fun, pleasure, pride in self-sufficiency, - once children can read and swim life for their parents becomes much easier.
Thus, when I became a grandmother I decided to take responsibility for my grandchildren’s swimming. Not just lessons but how to have fun in the water as well.
When Sage was a toddler we spent
Friday mornings at the Boy Charlton Pool where we frolicked in the water under
big shade cloths. Sometimes we were frogs, ribick, ribick, ribick, hopping slowly along the
steps, sometimes we were dolphins leaping up and down, and sometimes we made a
shopping list and swam to the fish supermarket located at the far end of the pool.
At intervals, we sat on the warm timber deck and ate chunks of watermelon and squinted across the harbour at the boats.
Sage’s water skills improved over the summer until she was able to keep afloat by treading water. But as her body was still vertical I decided we’d join the swimming classes held at the pool in the mornings where I’d noticed babies and toddlers having lots of fun bouncing around with their mothers guided by the teacher, a kindly, energetic woman who gave everyone massive amounts of individual attention. Perfect.
I signed us up for a term. Secretly I thought I was a groovy granny. I had visions of telling my granny friends how I taught my granddaughter to swim.
Sage looked dubious on the morning of the first lesson but I ignored it. I knew she was going to love it.
She hated it.
Not because anyone was being mean or because she was being forced to put her head under or to do anything scary. She was puzzled because our play time had suddenly turned into a classroom. As I struggled to make her join hands around the magic carpet and ride the noodle she kept pushing away.
‘Why can’t we go and play Grandma?’
My composure wobbled. The other toddlers were doing it. Why wouldn’t Sage?
‘I want to go to the fish supermarket.’
‘Sage I’d like you to join in…here we go…round and round the mulberry bush’
‘I want to be a dolphin’
‘Sage please sit on the noodle like the others.’
‘I want to get out.’
To my horror, I felt a knot of exasperation in my tummy. Lips thinning, I told the teacher we were leaving the class.
‘Are you sure?’ she said. ‘Sometimes it takes a while for them to get used to the structure.’
‘Grandma, I want to get out.’
I was aware of sympathetic eyes upon me. I closed my eyes, counted to ten and together we left the pool. I stared out at the harbour while Sage got stuck into the watermelon then, pointing her bum to the sky, peered through the cracks of the deck at the water below.
‘Now can we go and play?’
I laughed. My tummy knot dissolved. If it’s so easy for a grandma to fall into the activity trap what hope is there for parents? Somehow, I’d managed to turn fun with granny into ‘it’s time you learnt to swim whether you want to or not’ without stopping to consider whether that’s what Sage would prefer on our Fridays together. It was important that she learned to swim but it didn’t have to be with me, right then.
Few of us are immune from the compulsive necessity to stimulate our children’s natural development by enriching their environments and keeping them fully occupied with a smorgasbord of structured activities.
Increasingly parents feel obliged to saturate their children with all manner of enriching activities to ‘give them an edge’, ‘make sure they are not missing out’, ‘keep them out of mischief’ and ‘help them fulfil their potential’.
And with, perhaps, the deep-down secret hope that they might roll out at the other end as lawyers or doctors, world-class musicians, award winning actors, celebrity chefs or very fast swimmers.
Why the pressure?
Finding hard evidence to work out why modern parents are so driven to provide their children with more than their children need or more importantly, can happily accommodate, is difficult.
Some possible reasons:
Putting it into perspective
Extra activities can be fun, rich and interesting. Occasionally a childhood activity does lead to an absorbing lifelong vocation. But generally, activities should be viewed as the icing on the cake, not the cake.
Bear in mind:
When to call it quitsKnowing when to let go is an art and I hesitate to make suggestions as it is such an individual decision.
Walker Kathy, What’s the Hurry? Reclaiming childhood in an over-scheduled world,
Scholarships Group, Australia, 2005.