Monday, April 11, 2011

File under Drown, Attempt Not To

For a significant portion of my early grade school years, my family lived up over the hills of Duluth in a rural area called Pike Lake, cleverly named as such because, well, there was a lake in the middle of it.  Called Pike.  Genius, that.  We didn't live on the lake - no, no.  That was reserved (in my elementary eyes) for the uber-rich and uber-lucky, like professional hockey players and Italians that sold frozen pizzas.  Seriously.

And both Grandmas and Grandpas.  The nice thing about having both Grandmas and Grandpas living on the lake's northside, besides being able to tell all my friends that both my Grandmas and Grandpas lived on the lake's northside, was that I had free access to the beaches pretty much every day of every summer that wasn't a thunderstorm.  I remember when I learned how to swim, around the Boy's age.

I didn't have much choice in the matter.  When you "grow up on the lake", you learn how to swim in the following series of steps: 
Step One:  Get in the water.  And do it quickly, because your cousins, including some of the younger ones, already did, and you don't want to look Chicken.
Step Two:  Don't drown.
That's it.  Congratulations, you're a swimmer!  No instructors.  No lifeguards or Life Vests or Kickboards or Lane Dividers.  You just jump in.  Sink or swim.  (Or more literally - sink and then swim).  

Honestly, not until I was an adult, having moved to the safely-lit suburbs of an Urban Cultural Center, did I discover that people actually paid other people to teach them how to swim.  In chlorine!  With strangers!  And you had to shower first!  With strangers!  In a locker room!


So, anyway, the Boy, being an Urbanly Cultured lad, had his first "swimming lesson" back on Saturday.  A "rite of passage", my wife calls it.  An exercise to be labelled and filed under Drown, Attempt Not To.

And I will say, he composed himself very well, given the situation.  First, I'll start by saying he absolutely loves the water; has a blast whenever he goes "swimming" with his cousins in the Shoreview pool or his cousins in Duluth.  He even loves the Log Flume at the MegaSuperHugeAndUnnecessaryMall in Bloomington.  But even at his young age of (as he calls it) "halfway past five", I saw that he could sense just how unnatural and contrived a "swimming lesson" can be.  He was very unhappy about the whole experience, this Boy that loves water, and I'm just hoping we aren't ruining future visits to water parks for him. 

And I'll say in his defense, while sitting just beyond the Splash Zone,  the whole environment bordered on surreal.  I would've hated it too.

Where to begin.  Hmm.  Oh, how about the instructor?  I have never - NEVER - heard a voice like hers.  The closest comparison I can think of is Alvin - of chipmunk fame - after sucking the life out of a helium balloon.   I imagined dogs in the neighborhood barking at the wind, picking out phrases of hers that were beyond human capacity to actually hear.  It was all vowels, the consonants completely lost, tied up in knots in the back of her tightly pinched larynx.  Maybe that helps the kids focus or something. 

Like when they hear helium-Alvin say:  "o-HAY!  Nah ley's AH foh AHN ow ACKS!!!" (translation:  OK, now let's all float on our backs!), the students are so intensely focused on NOT allowing their ear drums to burst that they forget to splash each other in the eyes for a moment.  Excellent teaching strategy, I suppose, to keep the kids' fingers in their ears.

And add to that, the parent next to me.  Poor guy.  I'll start by saying that he's probably a good guy.  Pays his Taxes.  Drives the Speed Limit.  And definitely a Dedicated Dad.  He's here, after all, sacrificing his Saturday morning watching his boy or girl Not Drown.  But the book he's reading to pass the time?  I kid you not - it's called How to Read a Book.


How to Read a Book?  A book called HOW to READ a BOOK?  The irony-meter in my head had mercury busting through the top like a cartoon.  So.  Many.  Jokes. 

Like I wonder if they have an audio version?  With a bonus disc called "How to Listen to a Narrator"?

Or, Did he know to start on the left and move his eyes toward the right?  I'll bet there's a helpful navigation on the last page that says "If you are reading this, and you haven't read anything else to this point, you've started in the wrong place.  Please close this book, flip it over, and then re-open it again from the other side."

Or those helpful hand diagrams near the top of the first few pages that illustrate how to grab the corner, and in a gentle sweeping motion, pull Page One to the left, thereby uncovering Page Two?  Ha ha!!!

I have more.

But I won't.  Go there.

Back to swimming.  The Boy survived (both in the physical Not Drown sense, and in the emotional I Need to Get Through This Somehow Without a Complete Nuclear Meltdown into a Nervous Puddle of Brain Mush Like I'm Sure Will Also Occur the First Time I Want to Ask a Girl on a Date or Ask Dad for the Car Keys or Have to Give a Speech in 3rd Grade About Squirrel Habitats or President Eisenhower or Why I Love Minnesota sense), and did all of his proper kicking and back-floating and get-face-wetting. 

Once he was away from all the other kids, safely with Dad on the way to the locker room to reclaim his civilian clothes, he lost his composure, melting into sorrow about how NOT fun that was.  I couldn't help but agree.  After re-dressing, (I won't even START to describe the anxiety I felt, returning for the first time in 20 years to a boys' locker room), we soothed his nerves with a surprise trip to get ice cream.

Sigh.  Only 5 more weeks to go.  I'm going to need some Dairy Queen coupons if you have any.

Oh, and the guy was actually highlighting things!  I can hardly stand it!  Must! Make! Fun! Of!

Heh.  Highlighting must have been in Chapter One of the book, titled "How to Look Serious When Reading".  I imagine there exists a  paragraph that kindly warns purchasers that reading an ironic book in public could lead to ridicule from strangers.  It continues:  
"Therefore, we strongly recommend that if you are reading a book called How To Read a Book, in a public place, that you carefully color with (the attached) bright yellow marker.  This is called Collegiate Highlighting.  To achieve the desired effect of Not Looking Like a Complete Imbecile, be sure to highlight whole sentences, starting with the first sentence of each new paragraph you encounter and also anything that's printed really dark.  This is called bolding. (highlight this)  We recommend you also have a pencil handy to write small incoherent notes to yourself in the narrow white space to the left and right of the big clumps of words.  These are called margins. (highlight this)..." 

OK, I'll stop.  Just too easy. 

Have a great Monday everyone!  Don't drown.  Or at least attempt not to.

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