Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Swimming Lessons?

I recently read a blog post relating to the torture of childhood swimming lessons.  Of course, almost every "family" or "childhood" related post I read, reminds of yet another bit of lunacy from my own upbringing.  This one was no different.
My mom scheduled me to take lessons at a local high school when I was almost seven.  I didn't want to go, but I had no choice. I was relieved when she made me walk there by myself. One thing I didn't need was her screaming at me (or worse) from poolside.  The instructors were clearly high school idiots with summer jobs working for the city. I didn't like them at all.  My "teacher" and I didn't hit it off very well.

He instructed, I ignored.
He pleaded, I turned my head.
He yelled at me, I told him to go to hell.
I then got out of the pool and walked home.  I may have only been six years old, but I had the swearing ability of at least a sixth grader.

My mother wasn't pleased.  She informed me that I would learn how to swim that summer, or else. Some of you already know that my mom rarely threatened, she usually just reacted. When she did threaten, if you didn't comply, god help you.  That applied to anyone in her life, not just us.  My older brother chimed in with a potential life saving, "I'll teach him how to swim!"  Whew! My brother usually only caused me grief. This time it looked like he was actually going to help me.

Several days later my brother and I took the bus to the Nu-Pike Plunge, in downtown Long Beach.

The plunge was a huge pool with fancy concrete fountains in the middle. We changed clothes and walked out to the pool area. It was very loud and crowded. He found a spot to put our towels down and walked to the edge of the pool. He told me to jump in.  I'm no dummy. I checked out the depth markers. We were at the deep end and I knew it was over my head.

"Jump in" he repeated.
"No way, I'm going to the shallow end."
'Mom told me I better teach you how to swim today and I'm going to."
"Not in the deep end, I can't touch the bottom here!"

He grabbed me from behind, put both arms around me, did a couple of twirls, and threw me in.

I thought I was going to drown. When I came to the surface (probably no more than three seconds), I was cussing at him with everything I had, right up until the time I went back under. As I'm bobbing up and down, my brother is telling me to swim to the side. I didn't know how to friggin' swim and at that point, I was just trying NOT to sink to the bottom. I finally realized that I wasn't very far from the edge and somehow I struggled my way back.

My brother acted like I had done something great.
I wanted him dead!
He said we should go to the shallow end and practice. He was acting very nice (danger!) and persuaded me (dumb dumb dumb) into letting him "take" me out to the fountain using a life saver stroke. He said it was "cool."  He very smoothly swam us both to there. Then he swam away.

Yelling from the edge of the pool, he told me to swim to the side. I told him that I didn't know how to swim. He told me that it was going to be a long cold night then, because he wasn't going to help me. I started yelling, but nobody except the kids close to us heard anything.  One kid offered to help, but my brother told him to butt out or he'd kick his ass. I hung there for what must have been 30 minutes. Eventually, I somehow half paddled, half drowned my way to the side. I've been swimming ever since. That bastard!

I did learn a valuable lesson from the ordeal...

I made my kids take swimming lessons at such a young an age, that they were very unlikely to remember enough about the torture, to blog about it as adults...



  1. My dad taught me to swim by throwing me in a lake and letting me make my way back to shore. I was about 5. But that wasn't good enough. I hated to put my head under water, so one of his "lessons" was to force my head under until I stopped fighting back.

  2. That's a cruel way to learn.

    I was thrown in at one point, but when I appeared content to sink to the bottom the teacher pulled me back out. Later on I learned to float first. Now I love the water.

  3. Holy Crap! That was torture in more ways than one. Interesting topic-- How I Learned to Swim. I had no idea there were so many variations to the theme!

  4. The Plunge! I have been there, maybe around the same time as you!
    I think my dad taught me how to swim by tossing me into the pool.
    I knew how to hold my breath and swim underwater just fine, but swimming on top, I couldn't do. So I just went with it...I let myself sink, and then I knew I could swim back to the side underwater.

  5. Oh swimming lessons. The pool was always so cold and I didn't understand that I had to keep moving my arms and legs... torture!

  6. Here in Finland we learn to swin at school. First grade. But then, we have some 100.000 lakes and hence one had better know how to swim.
    And yet, each year during the Summer Solstice festivals some 20 people drown. And the statistics tell us why: out of 12 drowned 11 are drunken men with their flies open. Sad but true!

  7. I think if I was in the Tillett household I would have gone the proverbial sink direction rather than swim. Kudos to your brother for carrying on your mom's tradition of tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, tough, love. Great post!!

  8. Poor never had anything easy did you?!

    My mom told me once that she threw me into our home pool as I was having an hysterical tantrum aged 2...she jumped in right after me but I was not phased by the experience.

    I think my dad then taught me to swim at a very early age and then we had lessons at school....I do remember being terrified of going in the Big Pool (we had a tiny one for the toddlers and then the bigger one) and I clung to the teacher crying my eyes out first time I was in there. Second time, no problems.
    Love swimming to this day....

  9. altadenahiker - the head under the water is a bit too extreme. I bet you have some stories to tell...

    TS - I love it also. I've always been a sinker, but I still love the water. except for my tiny little phobia about things grabbing me... shhhh!

    Karen - It seems to me, the younger they start, the easier it is.

    Joe - the good old Pike. All gone now. Well, there is a "new" nu-pike, but it's not the same thing.

    Talli - It sure was. And why did we have to take a cold shower before going in? Shower..okay, but why cold?

    RA - That's very funny...a lot of drinking going on. Hey, do you know what happened to "Jimmy Bastards" blog? It's gone! I loved that thing...

    Copyboy - Yeah, when my mom wasn't around to tortue, he did an admirable job stepping in for her.

    Nat - I love swimming also, it was the teaching that sucked!
    Getting tossed in at the age of two had to suck, a lot!
    You are right, nothing was easy. But it's all good now! really good in fact...

  10. I can do it, but not a fan. Was able to teach all my kids, probably because I'm better at encouraging, than doing.

  11. Pat, one day I woke up and Jimmy Bastard was gone. No idea what happened. I loved his blog: hard to comment, but bloody brilliant.

  12. That is the best way to learn how to swim- And ditto- my monkeys learned to swim and walk around the same time-

  13. I took swimming classes to get out of summer Bible school..I reasoned with my overly religious mother, the bible school wouldn't help if I drown someday(she never learned to swim) I got my finger shut in a car door, (opened it to the bone) going to swim class, and didn't tell anyone because I might end up with a band-aid and sitting in a hot church...

  14. Pat, such a sad and touching story.
    My experience was the opposite.

    It took me longer than most to learn to swim, because my older sister ( I thought she was Esther
    Williams ) always let me wrap my
    arms around her neck and cling to her while she swam laps. Now I do
    better clinging to a board while
    wearing fins.

  15. I could not wait to swim. I remember begging my mother for lessons as my brother had his lessons. She thought I was too young. I just jumped in and copied what he was doing. My mother freaked but I was swimming better than my brother. One of the few daring things I have ever done in my life. Your experience sounds awful...but in the end the mission was accomplished. I am wondering ...have you ever had therapy to deal with all the trauma of your youth??

  16. On one hand I'm glad you learned, on the other, I hate the way you learned. Sorry Pat, your stories stress me and make me feel like crying :( UGH!!!

    I hated swimming lessons too. I don't really know why, the instructors were nice, I just wanted to teach myself and eventually did, in the shallow end where you should have had a chance to learn too.

  17. That is the funniest and most profound morale to a story I have ever read.

  18. speaking as a once upon a time swimming instructor, a tramatic expeierince (being flicked into the pool) can be very damaging, certainly threatening that you have to learn or else is too. The water is not for everyone, but I love the moral.

  19. I could feel your terror here. Swimming lessons. Yikes. My son had a hard time with his instructor and every one kept telling me to just let her do her thing, but I thought she was a maniac, so I pulled him out. Everyone told me I was wrong, but at least he won't be writing a blog post about it!

    Love your writing style!

  20. Is the next post going to be about how you repaid your brother's kindness??

  21. Ms A - after a slow start, I loved it.

    RA - That's terrible. I loved his blog. I thought it was one of the top 5 I've ever seen.

    Lady Ren - Yup, younger is better.

    BD - I can understand your feelings.

    DrSoosie - Therapy? Oh yeah! But not until I was about 35. I was lucky to make it to that point. Anyway, I had years of therapy for "family of origion" issues. I was a mess. I went for a long time, and still have no problem going today if needed. I absolutely LOVED it. It was painfull and difficult, but it was the best decision I've ever made in my entire life. Have you read any of the older stories in my blog? This swimming thing was minor by comparison to some. they're under family and childhood labels, on the right side of the blog. I have lot's more to post, but there are plenty there already.
    for a little more insight you could check out the link below. Not a fun time...

    Faye - Thanks! Nothing was easy or sane in my family. As I said before, if it all happened today, I'm sure my mom would have been in prison, an asylum, or both...

    Ally - Thanks so much for feeling it all. I promise you, I'm happier now than I have any right to be!
    I think these stories about my life are the next to final phase of recovery. When and if, I ever get all my stuff published, that will finalize it...

    Betty - some kids take to it and some don't. As you know, I was force fed everything. Although this story sounds pretty severe to most people, It was nothing compared to when I had to kill the rabbits by hand. I'm pretty sure you read and commented on that one. If not, here's the link.

    Thanks for the nice words!

  22. Chuck - This incident was only about a year after he fractured my head with the croquet mallet. Remember that one? Hawwwkkkaaa!

    Betty - (again) We both made a rabbit reference today..LOL

  23. Good grief! I took lessons myself when I was about 12...did okay but now I rarely swim anymore.....but at least I am not petrified of it....
    but your family sure gave you grief in every possible way when you were growing up. You have a strong will and strength of character to have withstood it all and become the wonderful man you are, in spite of them.

  24. Wowza....I'm surprised you didn't knock his teeth out at some point later in life. What a nasty way to initiate someone to swimming.

    I've got my own story about swimming lessons.....thanks for the reminder. It will make for good blog fodder some time in the near future.

  25. I taught myself. At summer camp, when I was ten. I was so ashamed the first day that I didn't know how but there were so many kids in the pool no one noticed. I spent the next ten days watching and learning and by the time I went home I had it down.

    I'm still kinda proud of myself for that.

  26. Same kind of thing happened to me when I was a kid of coarse now I can swim but only in shallow water. Oh well.

  27. Ah, brotherly love, eh? Poor sod, little wonder you were a fast learner! First time I ever saw the inside of a pool, I was 11, and the parents of a friend had me tag along. The friends big brother shoved me in at the shallow end - but I never knew - took me thirty seconds to find my feet - I truly thought I was going to die..

  28. My mom actually taught me, she also taught lessons as a teen, but she was one of the good ones parents paid to teach private lessons.

  29. Joan - Thanks for the nice words. Maybe some day there will be a movie about my family. That would be interesting. I still have a lot of other stories to tell....

    Marlene - LOL, I'm glad I could inspire you. By the time I got big enough for revenge, he was gone. He got his...

    Megan - That was a good way to do it. It didn't take very long at all to become a good swimmer after that. Ended up scuba diving and surfing after later on (much later).

    Warren - shallow or deep, if you can swim in one, you can swim in the other. Thanks for the comment Warren!

    Shrinky - That happened to me at the ocean once as a kid. A wave knocked me down and it took me the longest time to realize I could stand up...

    Cara - I wish I had that experience. But there was no way my mom was going to spend a penny on it, when it was available for free somewhere.

  30. Wow that sounds like something my brother would have done to me if we were closer in age and was home when I was learning to swim.

  31. haha - gold.. great post..

    Swimming is important, so Im glad it didnt scar you for life..

    I was a great swimmer as a kid, winning a cpl medals at school, but when i had to swim over the deep end i was so scared that i shut my eyes.. lol.. and i still dont like the sea for the same reason!!


  32. LMAO! i love it! i have been told that i was one of those kids it didnt matter if i knew how to swim or not i was going to jump in anyways... lol i am like a fish when it comes to water! Love it and cant get enough! Great story! Siblings are VERY helpful... lol

  33. I have pretty good memories of my childhood swimming lessons; no doubt it has something to do with the 2 very pretty teenaged instructors I had.

    I had no problem picking up swimming, but could not, for the life of me, do a dive off of the side of the pool. One night, I dreamt I was diving and the next day went to the pool and pulled it off.

  34. I learned how to swim at a young age.... But I never ventured to touch the bottom of the pool.... I was very good at dog paddling....

    One day, while at the pool with my sister, she told that there was a special key at the bottom of the pool (under the drain), and if I got that key, my parents would be able to open a big safe that would make the family rich beyond our wildest dreams....

    I went down to try once, but I couldn't make it and almost killed myself.... My sister, being the loving sibling that she is, convinced me to try again....

    I tried again, but this time she pushed me under until I went down to touch the drain....


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