July 27, 2013

Port City Post: Don't let the rules of the pool keep kids from building swimming prowess

A public beach emergency prompts gratitude for those chilly mornings of childhood lessons.

By JOLENE McGOWAN

I swim almost every day in Portland's only outdoor pool, on Douglass Street. We call it "the Kiwanis pool," but it is run by the city.

I work, I bike to the pool, I swim 45 minutes, I bike home and I eat dinner. All my desires are met by this blissful blue rectangle, surrounded by baseball fields. It's five minutes from my home, and I call it "my club."

Dubbed "the rule-pool," it hasn't always been blissful. As a parent, I've spent hours trying to break the rules -- not because I wanted to cause trouble, but because I wanted my kid to learn to swim.

1. One-adult-to-one-child ratio if the kid is under 7 years old and not yet 4 feet tall. No exceptions for twins, tall 6-year-olds or short 15-year-olds.

2. No hanging on your adult chaperone, even if you are still in diapers.

3. No running. A classic rule I'm happy to follow -- no blood in the pool, please.

4. No cutoffs. Another classic rule, dating back to the '70s -- apparently the occasional thread from the cutoffs causes chaos in a filter. Chipped paint, twigs, hair elastic and bugs as big as your thumb are all welcome because they sink to the bottom, avoiding the filter.

5. Mandatory swim caps for anyone with hair touching their shoulders.

If you are just trying to get cool on a blistering hot day in Portland and you show up in cutoffs with hair down to your shoulders and no swim cap to your name, too bad, dude -- try the air-conditioned mall.

6. No peeing or pooping in the pool. OK, I'm cool with this one.

The price of my evening lap swim was paid for long ago in central Maine, in another town-run pool -- also built by the Kiwanis Club.

The town pool was our salvation on hot summer days. The ocean was too far away, and we didn't have a camp or a fancy backyard pool.

My mother, who never learned to swim, made us take swimming lessons five mornings a week. Skipping because we were tired or fake-sick was not an option. She bullied us out of our beds every morning, and every afternoon at 1:45 we willingly returned to the same pool for "free swim."

In the mid-'60s, public pools did not have heaters, so every Sunday the pool was drained and refilled with cold water. The temperature on Monday morning was unbearable. We would stall as long as we could before being forced into freezing cold water by teenagers who had let the power of lifeguarding go to their head.

Four summers ago, while celebrating my niece's first birthday at one of Maine's many state parks, I pulled two children from the lake: a brother and sister (Edward and Charlotte -- I will never forget their names).

My sister, daughter and I had just stopped swimming to join the family for cake and presents when I spotted Charlotte, maybe 6 , splashing in the water. I thought she was playing, but she was actually coming up for air for her second or third time.

I scooped her out of the water and was heading for shore when my sister pointed to another spot in the water. Little Edward, maybe 4, was on his way down to the bottom. He was rolling over and over under the surface.

Edward was only a few steps away, so I scooped him up with my other arm and carried them both to shore. Charlotte coughed until she was breathing normally, while Edward stayed blue.

I leaned over Edward to blow into his mouth when someone yelled, "Turn him on his side!"

I did what I was told, and then my brother and another man took over massaging Edward from his hips to his chest until all the water exited his tiny body. His color returned.

After what seemed like hours, the state park lifeguards came to the scene, Charlotte and Edward's mother appeared out of nowhere and the ambulance, which was stuck in traffic behind a long line of cars headed to the lake on a hot summer day, arrived.

Teach your kids to swim even if you have to break a few rules and tell them, for me: No running, no cutoffs, no peeing, no pooping, but if you need to hang on to your adult chaperone's neck until you can stand on your own, break the rule.

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

respondtoportcitypost@gmail.com

 

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