My wife showed me the advertisement online.
“Learn to swim in only five lessons from Uncle Kimo. Money back, guaranteed.”
I shrugged. “Sounds good. How much?”
“Five hundred bucks for five classes—ten minutes each.”
“That’s bullshit. You can’t learn to do anything in ten minutes.”
She gave me that flat look she’d perfected. “Come on, Jim. She has to learn how to swim. We live in Hawaii.”
“We can’t afford it.”
“Your mom says she’ll pay for it.”
“Well, in that case.” I shrugged again. “Let’s go for it.”
We prepaid and signed all the waivers. The lessons were held in someone’s backyard pool, and we were instructed to wait outside for our turn.
Katie was excited about learning to swim without a floaty. We arrived early, just as a mother and her son were headed through the gate. A minute later, the blood curdling screams began.
I quickly dialed 9-1-1 on my smartphone, but right before I could press Call, I heard the mom.
“Let’s go, Braden. Kick! Kick! Kick! You can do it!”
Then Braden’s voice: “Help me, Mommy. Help me, please! Please, heeeeellllp! Moooommmyyy!”
“Is he drowning?” Katie asked, squeezing my hand like a reticulated python.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” I said, with absolutely no conviction. I was starting to think about getting some ice cream instead, pocketing the money, and lying to my mom about it. Katie must have agreed: as soon as I relaxed my grip, she bolted for the car.
I tried to stop her, but the sheen of sunscreen I had sprayed on her arms made her slippery as a greased pig and just as difficult to restrain. It took a minute to pin her to the ground. Then, panting, we sat there and listened to Braden scream for another eight minutes straight.
Then it was our turn.
When Braden and his mom passed us on their way out, they looked as if they’d just attended Grandma’s open-casket funeral. Uncle Kimo was in the pool, waiting for us. I carried Katie to him over my shoulder and passed her off like a bobcat—claws first.
“Just don’t offer to help her out,” he said, as she raked at his face and chest. I nodded and stood back.
Kimo started the class by shoving Katie’s head underwater and thrusting her toward the shallow end. To my surprise, she didn’t plummet like a stone. Instead, she began reflexively kicking and thrashing toward the steps.
Immediately, I realized my parental blind spot in trying to teach her myself. I’d never thought of tapping into her fight-or-flight response.
As she gasped for air, I cheered her on. “Great job, Katie! You’re swimming!”
Katie clutched the edge of the pool like a half-drowned cat.
“She’s very strong,” Kimo remarked as he pried her fingers away from the concrete. Idly, I reflected that if my little girl was ever accidentally buried alive, she’d claw through any coffin lid.
After her second swim to the edge, we had to change her swimsuit. The rest of the day’s lessons were cancelled due to pool cleanup.
I was just glad we’d had some success. I’d even gotten a two-second clip with no screaming that I texted to our entire family.
It turned out ten minutes of class was plenty because a child’s adrenaline glands were apparently tapped out at that point. Katie really earned her ice cream for sure that day.
Katie and I talked while we got ready for class.
“We have swimming lessons again today.”
Her eyes got huge. “But I don’t want to go to swim lessons.”
“Don’t you want to learn how to swim like a big girl?”
“But you did so well yesterday!”
She shook her head. “I don’t wanna go to swim lessons, Daddy.”
I’d expected this. And we weren’t quitting. “It’ll be fun.”
“I don’t want to go. Please, Daddy. No! Please, no! No more swim lessons, please, please, please. Nononononononono!”
We saw more progress on Day Two. I didn’t cry until at least six minutes into the lesson.
This was the day the kids learned to self-rescue when Kimo brought them to the pool’s edge and had them jump into the deep end.
Katie took to it like falling through thin ice. After scrambling back to the surface in a blind panic, she hauled herself out like a nutria rat exiting a drainage ditch during a flash flood.
Seemed like three to five minutes of class on Day Three was probably good.
Afterward, Katie made it clear that ice cream wasn’t a sufficient reward for the day’s efforts. Even a five-gallon bucket of ice cream, unlimited iPad time and a new puppy dog weren’t enough to appease her.
Kimo asked that parents didn’t take their kids swimming on their own at any point during the week of classes. Katie didn’t know this rule, but she insisted on following it.
Thankfully, Mommy came with us on Day Four. I needed help wrenching Katie into her swimsuit, strapping her into the car and dragging her through the gate at the pool. Then Mom got to watch firsthand as our daughter groveled for help, while I shouted words of encouragement from a few feet away.
But Katie was really learning how to swim. She just didn’t know how to breathe while she was doing it. However, we found out she could swim the entire length of the pool on only one breath. Wow! Our own little Wim Hof.
It all came together on Day Five. After that, I could sit and read a book while my daughter zipped across the pool like a water bug. I’d wave to her as she played on the steps with her toys and self-entertain for hours on end.
Swim floaties are awesome. They only cost twenty-five bucks and they even come with a money-back guarantee.