It’s time to alert the public about the pain inflicted every year on a vulnerable segment of the population. It comes in seemingly benign form, advertised as the ultimate East End summer experience for (unsuspecting) youth. But beware of this nefarious activity – kids’ swimming lessons.
Have you ever watched a young one standing in damp sand at the water line early in the morning, shivering in about two-ounces of flimsy bathing suit material, catatonic at the thought of immersing a toe in the murky waters that harbor Wild Things and Grinch look-a-likes? It’s a terrifying sight.
Adults who inflict this activity on their off-spring don’t know that water not Caribbean clear hides two things as shocking to the young as night shadows behind the bedroom door and Grandpa burping at the Thanksgiving table: crabs and jellyfish. It’s said the Inquisition got quick confessions out of prisoners by throwing them into water infested with crabs and jellyfish.
This is how the parents see the swimming lessons: we take our children to the local beach in the early morning, savoring along the way the special East End smells of fresh-cut grass, honeysuckle and dry seaweed. We line them up with the other kids and then chat with their parents, our new-found summer friends. We wave as the grinning children dog paddle by, giving their best imitation of freestyle. After an hour or so of happy outdoor activity, they emerge and we wrap them in a cozy towel. We promise them hot chocolate as we all stroll down the lane toward home.
This is how the kids see the swimming lessons: they toss us out of a warm bed, squeeze us into last year’s bathing suit, which is now too small, and make us walk down this road that doesn’t smell anything like our stuff – fresh bagels and sweaty Ugg boots. They dump us in with these dorks we don’t know, chat with their parents, all clad in cozy fleeces and leggings and ignore the fact that it’s nine o’clock in the morning and cold. We swim by splashing for dear life and grimacing, trying to keep our heads above water, which they mistake as a new Olympic style. Only after we come down with a terrible case of the blue shivers, do they bundle us in damp towels and then promise us hot chocolate, when all we really want is a mocha latte. Then they make us walk home.
This is all true. It happened to me. Torturous swim classes were de rigueur in the days of children should be seen and not heard. I would gladly have exchanged one lesson for an hour of Torquemada’s thumb screws. My swim stories are equivalent to walking to school uphill, both ways, barefoot, in the snow. Well, on lesson days, we were barefoot and on certain cold mornings in the summer, I’m sure it was snowing.
You see, I took my lessons in the Sound at eight o’clock in the morning and in August when the days were shorter and the water colder. Most kids who needed lessons would have drowned by then. The sun was never out. We turned blue before we even got into the water – the color of the crabs that wanted to nip at our toes and the Portuguese man-of-wars that hankered to wrap themselves around our skinny bodies. We were sure we could hear kids screaming over in Connecticut, as they, too, dipped unwilling toes into the dark water. Moms didn’t watch us. They prudently sat in their warm cars and smoked.
When I read someone passed of “natural causes” or “complications” from whatever, I just know these are euphemisms for “finally succumbed from having been submitted as a young person to swimming lessons on the East End.” Even now I take great precautions to avoid what could be a fatal case of the blue shivers and crab nibbles. I only swim between 2 and 2:10 on sunny days during the last week of July – in a heated pool.
So parents beware of what can happen to your little ones down the road. As a one-in-a-million survivor myself, I think the only way to go is outfit the kids with a water jet pack. This should successfully propel them well above all the deadly creatures harbored in the waters underneath. (Did I mention the giant octopus and vampire squid?) The jet pack avoids all contact with anything scary, except possibly another kid in a jet pack. They’ll never have to learn how to swim. In fact, don’t a lot of adults avoid the water altogether by floating around on top of it in large, fancy tubes, that are known to attach at one end to sensible places like Tiki bars?
So stop the water torture now. Let the kids engage in that other ultimate East End summer experience – sneaking out of the house at night to see where Farmer Joe is hiding his fireworks.