I’m sat on a black pleather sofa in Leyland Leisure Centre, watching my partner teach our little girl to swim. He’s anxious; he feels self conscious, especially as we forgot to get a plaster to cover the expletive tattooed on the top of his right arm. [I love his tattoo for the story behind it, it represents a beautiful part of him and is one of the first things I fell in love with.] Ianthie is not anxious. Watching her through a slightly grubby window I feel a deep happiness at her easy enthusiasm.
Last week she had a lesson at another local pool. I say had a lesson, she was booked onto it for a whole term, but she only got one foot in the water during ten minutes of coaxing. She was excited when we arrived, but between slipping on her bum and an instructor whose help consisted of turning to us every minute or two and advising the sobbing child clinging to me to “just jump in”, she became upset enough for us to withdraw her and cancel the direct debit. A chat with the centre manager illicited politeness but no attempt at help or support. All the classes were full, and they couldn’t possibly spare a few minutes’ attention to give a four year old some confidence for her first lesson. Of course, once she’s formally diagnosed (a process that typically takes years) she’d be very welcome to come to the SEN session held weekly at a time and on a day we weren’t free.
So instead we’re here. I’m not sure what the pool is like but the reception area smells only slightly less like wee than the changing room. There are pleasant staff and overpriced snacks in vending machines. Judging by the man sat near me pouring hot chocolate from one plastic cup to another to cool it for his son, the drinks available come at the usual instant drink machine temperature of dear god where has the top layer of flesh from my mouth gone.
Gary has prepared for these lessons. He is determined to help our girl achieve anything she wants, which means holding her hand through any challenges thrown at her by the world, or her own brain. After our failed first attempt, Anthie still wanted to learn, but her anxiety was building; having come to a firm consensus as a family that the first instructor was extremely silly (seriously, no register or greeting of any kind at the start of the lesson), she was insisting on a girl instructor. My anticipatory mental list of things she would be permanently off-put by was growing. And so Gary quietly became a swim coach. He watched YouTube tutorials and shared them with Anthie. We tried and failed to buy a pool noodle, but managed to substitute a float.
Gary and I planned, coaxed and coached Anthie into being as ok with it as possible. So I don’t mind that I probably look silly getting off the sofa every five minutes to kneel just the other side of the glass from Anthie, desperately hoping that my over the top grins and hand signals convey that I’ve understood all the things I can’t hear her saying to me. I don’t mind that it’s too-warm and moist in here. I do kind of mind the pee smell and the decades of grime in every corner, but it’s very worth it.
At the end of the lesson, she’s been helped to swim several lengths, dipped her face in once, and been screamed at by a cute toddler who is overcome with jealousy at her Frozen goggles. None of us is having a meltdown and I couldn’t be happier or more in love with either of them.