Every month I am relieved of nearly sixty pounds. Depending on the number of children that they have, other parents who go to the same leisure centre as me are also relieved of upwards of twenty pounds a month per child. For this I and they get the exceedingly dubious pleasure of escorting their Chillderbeasts to their swimming lessons each and every week.
I have been taking my Childerbeasts swimming since they were tiny, with me actually having to go into the pool with them at that time because four month old babies going swimming themselves is apparently not recommended For those of you who remain blissfully unaware, getting ready to take a baby swimming is another job in itself before you even get near the pool if you are a woman (see The Thigh’s the Limit if you are in any doubt as to what I am referring). I was usually sweating and stressed out before I even got to the front door.
Now when you take your children swimming when they are very small, it is a double-edged sword. You are getting them used to the water so they will never remember they were frightened when they start actual lessons, if they ever were; tick. The water is usually freezing cold; cross. And causes their little lips to go blue; cross. So you leap about even more enthusiastically to try and warm them up; tick. But when you eventually give in and get out they throw a tantrum and kick their little legs up and down because they were having a lovely time; cross. But they are also now starving; cross. And their swim nappy needs some attention; cross. Then you have to stand sopping wet and rather cold whilst you dry an upset and wriggly child. Once they are dry, the changing rooms are usually so disgusting that you don’t want your child to touch anything, let alone put their hands in their mouths and everything, absolutely everything has a pointy edge just asking for a head to be bumped on it . We all know how much children listen to being told not to do things, so the only thing to do is to put your dry clothes on your cold and wet body, pick up your child, and leave. Remember, you are paying for this.
When they get bigger, it’s a whole new circle of hell. First, assuming that you have got into the changing rooms past the ridiculous turnstiles (who would infiltrate the local leisure centre? Who?) you have to get the recalcitrant child into their swimming attire. That’s like trying to nail jelly to the wall. Then, in spite of you having asked them before they got undressed if they needed to go, and they catageorically denied it, they need a wee. So they take it all off again. In the festering and disgusting pit that is the changing room toilet. It is never any different in any leisure centre I have ever been in. Why is the person who uses the loo before you in a swimming pool changing room utterly incapable of a) getting their urine into the toilet b) getting the toilet paper into the toilet and c) flushing it? It’s not difficult. I assume that they do it at home. Once I had to report a used tampon on the floor of said toilet to a very distressed looking member of staff. I had not specified what horror they were likely to find because I could not bring myself to utter the words, so utterly incredulous was I that someone would be so monstrous. I had merely suggested that the toilet might need some attention and that was sufficient to strike the fear of God into them. After somehow controlling an almost uncontrollable desire to disinfect everything, you note that the changing rooms now seem to be at a temperature that is hotter than the surface of the sun, and the swimming hat has yet to go on.
For reasons not even known to myself, last year, I volunteered to go swimming with the school. I picked up a top tip from one of the children for putting on a swimming hat during that time and I pass it onto you. The adult holds the hat open. Hold it firmly and face the open part towards the child. The child, with hair up if necessary, then runs full pelt and head-first at the open hat. In one swift movement, as the child’s head goes into the hat, the adult releases the hat, steps to one side and the child has to either stop running or hit the wall. Either way, they are now wearing a swimming hat.
Just when you thought you were ready to advance on the pool, you have to tackle the damned goggles. Goggles are viewed by children like food; what was acceptable last week, or even the day before, could cause great offence this week. So the goggles fitted and did not let the water in last week. Today is quite the opposite. The goggles are re-adjusted and put on. You then gratefully release your child into the care of their swimming teacher for twenty five minutes or until they decide they need another wee, whichever comes first.
You make you way to the viewing area where, in spite of the cacophony, you will note that your child is listening, that’s right, I said listening, to their teacher. And not only are they listening, they are showing all of the signs of doing as they have been asked. As you sit there, gently perspiring, sporting your shoe covers and the unpleasant feeling of damp around your ankles from the bottom of your jeans getting wet, you think of all of the places you’d rather be; a yacht, a beach, the dentist…and you remember that you’re actually paying for this.
At the end of the lesson, you collect your child and join the queue for the showers. Now, builders of leisure centres, I want to talk to you so listen up. In my extensive experience, it is generally mothers who take their children swimming. Now we could get into a very long and detailed discussion as to why mothers generally take their children swimming, which I am more than happy to do. But we both know that it ain’t going to change anytime soon. When our children are small they come into the changing rooms with us. Trust me, we do not enjoy the experience; we accompany our children because we are their mothers and that is our job. So what you could do is provide more showers. They’re not that expensive and it sure as hell would make a difference to us. Thank you for your attention.
When you eventually get your child into the shower, you then have the very thorny issue of getting the little bugger out. You will stand there telling them to rub the shampoo in. You will insist that they put their head under the stream rather than standing with their bum poking in the water and their head poking out. You will, in very clipped tones, invite them to stop filling their swimming hat with water. Every week you will eventually make a plea to their better nature and point out that there are other children still waiting so could they please speed up. Eventually, you bring the big guns out and tell them that if they don’t get out of the shower you will cancel computer time/not let them have some chocolate/never feed them again.
They won’t dry their legs before they put their pants on. You will ask. You will ask every week. You’re wasting your breath. Every other mother in the changing area knows it because they were standing in the shower with you when their child was also filling up their swimming hat with water instead of having a wash. They won’t dry their hair off either because what would a Childerbeast have to complain about if it wasn’t for wet hair dripping down their back? Oh that’s right – they’re hungry again. Eventually, in a timespan that feels geological, you leave. Safe in the knowledge that you will go through the very same ordeal in precisely seven day’s time.
In some years from now you will be on that beach. Slathered in factor fifty you will look up from your book to see your Childerbeast sploshing about in the sea. Before you sat down you assessed the distance between your sunlounger and the sea and you already know that the distance is such that if you had to run to get there, you could. The distance is now one hundred metres rather than one hundred millimetres. So for now you can watch them from where you are. They will marvel at the fish they can see whilst snorkelling. They will shout “Mummy, look at me” as they leap in for the millionth time. You may even hire a boat or go on a trip which involves everyone throwing themselves overboard and swimming to the beach for a visit to a local taverna. And as you sip on your cool drink, you will lean back, sigh and think to yourself “I have most certainly, most definitely, and without a shadow of a doubt, paid for this”