Swimming was an excellent way of tiring out Small. The downside was that it was also an excellent way of tiring me out.
That is not strictly true, it was not the swimming that tired me, it was the process of getting to the water so that actual swimming could take place and then from the water back to home.
There was a bewildering paraphernalia of things that I needed to pack in order to take Small swimming. Swimming kit at school used to be a pair of trunks rolled in a towel. I still needed that, one for me, one for Small. That was fundamental: they wouldn’t let us in the pool without at least the trunks. In addition I needed, depending on the age of Small at the time; a swimming nappy (failing that an ordinary nappy but they bloated up alarmingly in the water), a float seat, arm bands, a float belt, a separate float or a toggle/woggle/noodle and goggles. As Small got less Small there was the additional need for balls to play with and things that sink and can be collected from the bottom of the pool by diving. Then there was the shampoo and something to shower all the chlorine off after the swim. And the final thing I had to pack was a drink and a snack for Small after swimming. That was vital. Without it Small would explode from exercise induced hunger and any chance of getting him to sleep (the main purpose of the trip) would be lost.
I found it best to pack my bag the evening before the swimming exploit, after Small had gone down for the night (or part of the night). Thinking was clearer when Small was not in the background and I was less likely to forget things. In the morning all I had to do was to remember to wedge the bag in the bottom of the buggy. Once we reached the toggle/woggle/noodle stage I had to get fairly creative with that. Oh, and I had to remember to wedge Small in the top of the buggy.
Once at the pool I faced the first major drama: getting changed. The pool changing room was a frightening place for Small. It smelt funny, was much hotter than outside and was usually noisy, with screaming kids and shouting parents battling each other behind their cubical doors. If we were lucky we would get one of the family cubicles that had a little more room and either a play pen or mat with a strap to contain Small whilst I juggled with all the paraphernalia. If not I had to use my contortionist skills to make sure Small didn’t fall from the bench whilst I juggled.
For the dry change, before the swim, I found it best to get myself changed and then change Small, aeroplane emergency style. Unless Small was already screaming, in which case I reversed the order, thinking he was probably too hot.
Once changed, the next task was to locate enough lockers, close to each other, that would take the load of all the things not going to the pool. Now, with me sporting several key armbands, we could finally make our way to the water.
My approach to water, from as young as I can remember, was to just leap in and get the shock over with. This seemed to be frowned upon when you had a Small over your shoulder. Instead I had to slowly ease into the water, either by walking from the shallows or gingerly climbing down the steps.
On our very first trip Small was not overly impressed with the pool. The water was cooler than his bath and considerably rougher thanks to all the older kids breaching the no bombing rule. Small’s face crumpled and his mouth opened wide in protest. Trying to remain calm I made suitable soothing noises. When that didn’t help I swished him around a bit. His face uncrumpled and broke out into a grin. Encouraged I swished faster. His face crumpled again so I slowed down until the grin returned. Soon he started to splash around and giggle gleefully.
That lasted about five minutes before he started to get cold and I found myself out of the pool and in the shower, muttering about how much effort I had gone to for a few minutes in the water. But as Small got bigger the roles reversed and I started to make, ‘let’s get out,’ noises, long before Small was ready to leave.
Either way, once through the shower the next phase was the reverse of the changing drama. This was worse because now we were both wet and cold. Suddenly the changing room did not feel overly hot; it was a cold, slimy, miserable, dank and clammy place where I had to wrestle with various lockers whilst maintaining a grip on a wet, slippery Small. Then I had to fight for a vacant cubicle and try and squeeze everything inside, keeping our dry clothes out of the puddles on the floor and the bench.
With the wet change there was no question, Small got changed first whilst I shivered: better that I was cold than him. Anyway, by the time he was changed I had vibrated most of the moisture from my body. Once Small was dressed (he usually needed a layer more on than when he came in) I would perform a record breaking change.
When we were both dry and warm we would head to the café where Small would have his bottle, or snack and drink once he was older.
Ta dah! Swimming done and it was back in the buggy to tramp home. If I was lucky Small would doze off on the way and I would be rewarded with some Small-free time, provided I could get him indoors without waking him.
Once there were multiple Smalls, the swimming dilemmas expand exponentially: there was more paraphernalia, less space in the changing room, multiple chances of screaming with one setting the other off, more lockers were required, Small 1 would want to get out of the water and Small 2 wouldn’t, Small 1 would freeze whilst I dressed Small 2 and one of them wouldn’t go sleep on the way home.
Of course, swimming was not all just about getting my Smalls to sleep. I would be failing if I didn’t mention the joy inherent in swimming with my Smalls (not in my smalls). Water offered them the sheer enjoyment of unrestricted limbs, expressed in freely given laughs: it was pure fun. Until it was not and they wanted to get out.
Not so much a parenting guide full of advice, more the reality of parenting kids and being a house husband and father, written by a stay at home dad to three children.
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