m is for mermaid.

Mermaids. Do you believe in them? The scientist part of me says No, but the magic in my soul says GO! When I was six, my mother signed me up for swim lessons at the YMCA. I was so scared of water, I'd wear my bathing suit under my clothes and then tell the swim instructors I'd forgotten it. (How does one take swim lessons and just casually forget their bathing suit every single time? Six year olds are not known for their rapier-like logic, and the only thing I can think of to explain why none of the adults around me clued in on that by, say, Day 2, is that, well...it was the 70s. If you're in your 40s or older, certainly you know what I mean when I say that.) Eventually someone caught on and I remember a really nice instructor sitting in the ladies' changing room with me, asking me gentle questions that basically all said the same thing: We all know you're lying; why are you lying? After awhile, she got me to admit I was a being a big fibber, shimmy out of my patchwork flared jeans and Winnie the Pooh t-shirt, and reveal the (probably polyester since it was the 70s) bathing suit. And then we got in the pool.

I don't remember exactly what happened after that--I sort of remember clinging to the sides of the pool a lot, just watching the others do the lesson and refusing to participate. For some reason, after awhile (or a day or two? it was the 70s, when time was complicated), I took a risk and ventured beyond the walls of the pool. And then I put my head underwater. And it. was. MAGIC.

After that, I was practically a fish. Which is only as it should be, since I'm a Pisces and we happen to be fishes (two actually, joined at the tails, swimming opposite directions, which really sums me up nicely). And then I was in a pool, every day unless it was thundering and lightning, all summer long. In the deep end. Pretending I was a mermaid, falling in love with Australian spy Robert Scorpio from the soap opera General Hospital. (Even as a child, I had an inability to resist when it came to men with non-American accents.)

I don't know why it came as a big surprise to me that I'd give birth to a child who was also fearful of water. Fear of water is probably the most ironic phobia, being that we live on a water-covered planet, we gestate in fluid, and our bodies are mostly made up of water. (And dust from the cosmos, but that's another post.) Further, I find it really flippant of Mother Nature to have had the audacity to not put gills on us. So unfair, Mother Earth. A real evolutionary foul play.

So Miss M: always terrified of water. Not of water itself, but rather of putting her head beneath it. I've felt, for these last 5 years or so, this is partly genetic and also partly because one night during bath time when M was a mere wee sprite of one year, I turned to grab a washcloth for a split second...and when I turned back to her, she was under the water looking up at me with sort of calmly shocked gaze. And then I pulled her out and she started wailing; water probably went up her nose. (Don't turn your back on babies in water! Not even for a split second! Horrifying, horrifying.)

After that, it was almost impossible to get her under water. And she didn't like it in her face. Holy god forbid you get a drop of water on one of her cheeks--the entire bath process had to come to a screeching halt so we could carefully wipe off the offensive thing.

She got slightly better as she got older. Like, when I had to wash her hair, I could pull down the shower head and run it over her head...as long as her head was aaaall the way back and we had a towel at hand for any water-on-face mishaps. Just thinking about the process is making me want to take a nap. Kids are freaking exhausting. And really picky, yet so fickle. Honestly, some days it feels like I'm living with a tiny little despotic Norma Desmond.

At any rate, we've had quite the time trying to get Miss M over her fear of going underwater. Two years ago we did swim lessons at Lifetime Fitness, this past spring we took lessons through our county's park and rec services. Both experiences were less than satisfactory for us--they made the parents stay and watch, so M would run over to me a lot and beg to go home. To avoid law suits and red-faced parental hostility, they took the gentle approach: lovingly dump water on the head, soothingly try to cajole her scared ass out into 3 feet of water. Both times, I let the instructors know I was fine with just dumping her in the deep end and letting her figure it out. I wasn't going to be That Parent; they had my full support, do what you gotta do, ladies, you're the swimming experts. Both times, the instructors looked at me like I was the insanest parent they'd ever encountered. (No I wasn't: I once watched a mom change a poopy diaper right next to the pool at Lifetime Fitness. The lifeguards had a fit and she had a fit that they had a fit. While standing with a poopy diaper in her hand. People are nutty. And gross.)

And then we found Ms. Kim, who taught both my niece and nephew to swim. And my niece, let me tell you: my niece is a stubborn, tough cookie. Ms. K earned her money with G. So when I was at the end of my rope--Melissa HAS to learn how to swim; knowing how to swim will save your life and therefore is NOT optional--my sister in law gave us Ms. Kim's number. After we registered M, we got a 5 page email with all The Rules. Rule #1 being NO PARENTS ALLOWED. (And a suggestion to bring earphones and music to relax for 30 minutes while shit gets really real for your child.)

So we went today. Today was Day 1 of Really Real Swim Lessons. I wasn't nervous going in; I was nervous about what I was going to be hauling home with me in the backseat of the car afterwards. Would she just be very quiet and shell shocked? Or would I be taking home Wendy from THE SHINING, right after Jack chopped through a door with an axe screaming, "Here's Johnny!" determined to kill her. I didn't know.

But we went, and she went into the pool area willingly (like a lamb to a slaughter) (I did think it--I swear to you, I had that thought right inside my brain as I watched her little back retreat from me.)

Thirty minutes later, Melissa came out dripping wet from head to toe.

"Mommy," she screamed, "I DID IT! I put my head under the water! I used Ms. Kim's magic orange goggles and I did it! I did it! Are you SO proud of me?"

"Oh yes yes yes, sweet girl," I said, "I am so SO proud of you!"

And then Ms. Kim told me Miss M had swallowed a ton of pool water in the fight process, and not to be upset--there could be a lot of throwing up on the way home. And, on cue, Melissa vomited all over Ms. Kim's parents' porch. Nice. And then, on the way home, Melissa asked for a snack because her tummy hurt...and proceeded to vomit up two more tons of her stomach's contents.

Lovely, lovely. Sooooo...I just got done spending 40 minutes in the heat of the early Georgia evening mopping up vomit chunks from the back of my car. You know what you learn when you have to mop up vomit chunks in summer heat and humidity for 40 minutes? You learn that (1) stomachs, even tiny 5 year old ones, hold a freakishly enormous volume of food and water--I swear, why are we not in the camel family? surely we could traverse the desert with what our stomachs can hold; (2) the insides of human beings are absolutely disgusting--they look disgusting, they smell disgusting...we are all just walking/talking containers of revolting, repulsive ick; and (3) poop is way more desirable to clean up than vomit. I'm pretty sure I could walk through a sewer full of fecal matter for a whole day with very little reaction, but the second I smelled vomit floating with the feces, I'd be hurling up my own guts, creating multiple hernias and whatnot. (Note: tomorrow, there will be nooooo blueberry muffin plus chocolate milk snacks beforehand. Pure water until all pool vomit has cleared the area.)

So it was a slightly traumatic afternoon for both Miss M and I. Afterwards, I asked her if she had fun. "Yes," she said, "I had fun but not TOO much fun."

"Well, I was so so SO proud of you, my big girl. You were SO very brave!"

"But mommy," M said sadly, "You didn't see me."

"What do you mean," I asked.

"I MEAN," she sighed dramatically, " I WASN'T brave. I was SCARED!"

"What did Ms. Kim say when you were scared?"

"She said if I didn't get my hands off her neck she was going to dump me."

"But now you know how to put your head underwater and you can DO it, big girl! I am SO proud of you!"

That's when I was told I was talking too much and she didn't want to talk about it anymore. DOG WITH A BLOG was on and she only wanted to hear them talk.

And that, my friends, is how you train up child (in a swimming pool). I say this all the time, about how I do worry about the wussification of America. And today I realized I may have been a part of that wussification of America in my little teeny corner of this country. So thank god for strong people like Ms. Kim, thank god for them. America, put people like her in charge. You aren't going to like it, and you're probably going to blow chunks on Day 1 and probably Days 2 and 3, but by Day 5? You're swimming like a mermaid. Or merman. Mergirl. Boy. Whatever.

Pre-Life Changing Event.

Post-Life Changing Event (two mermaids in a car).


  1. you are cracking me up! I love it. There is hope - we are on swim team this year.... insanity! And little N thinks she's 7, not 4 1/4 and has NO fear of the water... while on 1 hand I am thrilled that she is a little waterbug - on the other hand she freaks me out when she jumps and starts to swim for me, comes up for a breath and winks and suddenly turns for the middle of the deep end. The fun never ends. But in all seriousness- I feel for you! My girls have always hated water in their faces at bathtime, but they swim underwater. Trying to teach them strokes might kill me (if I cared), - they want to be a mermaid/torpedo. One day, you'll be so happy she is swimming, and terrified that she has too much confidence - all rolled into one. Isn't that parenting - the ultimate standing on the fence of terror in all situations.

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  3. Sorry! I posted a comment to you originally, but messed up (I said "Cannot BELIEVE how big your M hasn't gotten." What??) (Brains, honestly.)
    Here's what my (grammatically correct and much cooler) comment:
    Cannot BELIEVE how big your M has gotten. Swim team?! Holy moly, where does the time go?? Before you know it, she'll be auditioning for the Olympics. N, too!

    Well, Day 2 went superb. She put her face in water again, and jumped in. And no pool water was swallowed, which means there was zero vomit clean up duty. Good lord, that was horrendous. I had to take nausea breaks. This is why I didn't go into medicine, exactly why.

    Totally agree with you on the parenting thing--you want them to fly free, but you're terrified.

    Love you, Val!

    1. aaand obviously i messed up grammar in the 2nd comment, too. You know what I mean.

      English is hard.


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