Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Did It!

I grew up in the era of public service announcements about illegal drugs when they said, “Marijuana is merely a stepping stone to harder drugs.” I mention this here because this is how I was introduced to the concept of stepping stones. Because it’s hard to find streams to walk across in the city.

Jr. Lifesaving was supposed to be a stepping stone to Sr. Lifesaving. And Sr. Lifesaving was supposed to be a stepping stone to Water Safety Instructor. Why? Just because. That was the ladder. You climb the ladder. That’s how life works. You climb the ladder until you’re happy. Happiness comes with altitude. God bless America.

I stopped at Sr. Lifesaving. I swam competitively in high school, which was a very weird transition for me. Playing in my favorite environment changed to going as fast as I possibly could until I was about to puke – in my favorite in environment. Fortunately I wised up in College. Or more accurately, in college I was attracted toward and distracted by other things. Dry land stuff mostly. I still swam, but nothing intense like racing.

On Tuesday, Dec 29, 2009 I finished WSI training at MIT. I’m finally a Water Safety Instructor some 34 years after I thought I was going to be. Not bad when you think about it. I did a few other things in the time in between. School, family, job, two cross country moves, more school, writing, performing… you know, the usual. But the point is that I did it. But why? Why did I need to complete WSI at my “advanced” age? I’ll tell you my reasons. First let me tell you my mother’s reasons.

My mother epitomizes the strong black woman. Born in the early 1920’s, she’s seen a lot of history – the depression of the 1930’s, WWII, Korean and Viet Nam Wars, JFK, MLK, RFK, burning cities, marches, 70’s hair, polyester, moon landing. We’ve been a busy nation and she’s been there. But it was back in the 1940’s when she heard of black people drowning. “Drowning!? They drowned? That’s just stupid! There are people lynching us, starving us, discriminating against us, and here we die from something completely preventable!?” She was indignant. That’s when she decided to be a swimming teacher. She’s also been on a tirade about one thing or another ever since.

Fast forward to the 1990’s. That’s when I met people that I thought were from Mars. You might think that would be cool, meeting an alien life form, but all I wanted to do was help them. “I don’t know how to swim,” they told me. What? Really? Or I would hear the kinder gentler form, “I’m not a strong swimmer” – which in self conscious proud adult terms often means “I can’t swim.”

Once a friend of mine asked me to teach her how to swim and I enthusiastically said, sure! I’ve been swimming for decades, I’d love to teach you, I said. Then I thought about it and realized that I had no idea how to teach someone to swim. I made a quick call to my mom. How do you teach someone to swim? She walked me through some steps. That was my first WSI lesson – it took all of about 60 seconds over the phone. No suit required.

I got in the water with my friend and started working with her. Then it hit me. “Um, you grew up in the Philippines, on an island. What do you mean you don’t know how to swim?” But she didn’t know how to swim, as is the case with a lot of island people here in the US. It then occurred to me that there are also a lot of young new parents who don’t know how to swim at all or don't know how to swim well. They celebrate the birth of this kid, then realize they’re screwed when they take that kid on vacation. They KNOW they won’t be able to avoid water-based trips - pools, the beach, lakes. How are they going to ensure their child’s safety in the water as they do on land?

So to you new non-swimming parents and to you islander immigrants out there, I’m here to help. Contact me.

(In a future post I’ll describe what it was like to be the oldest person in WSI class.)

1 comment:

Laura said...

Congratulations! I'm so proud of you and know you'll be a great teacher.