Mabel did not sleep this afternoon. At least, after 20 minutes of blessed peace, the monitor chirped “Mummy?” and that was that. This, added to her bad night last night, meant that at the nursery-school picnic this evening, her dark shadows were such that people were asking me if Mabel had done something to her eyes. Just kept them open too long, that’s all.
We effected a departure ASAP, once Monkey had eaten his sandwich (brought from home) and some cake and a brownie and drunk a lot of pink lemonade, and Mabel had ostentatiously rolled down the hill several times, pausing ever longer at the bottom both for dramatic effect and because she was far too tired to get up. (I also had time to queue up twice for food, because by the time the first lot is eaten another batch of people have arrived bearing culinary goodies that must be investigated. And I believe B ate something too.)
Now they are both asleep and I have a nice glass of pinot grigio in front of me, to bolster me for who knows what sort of night ahead. I’d like to say that she’s bound to sleep long and hard and deep, but that’s what I said at naptime and look what happened.
In my youth, lo these many years ago, there was one public swimming pool in the vicinity of my house. And not particularly the close vicinity: about a 15-minute drive, sort of three suburbs over, if you like. It was romantically known as Blue Pool. Which was nicer than greenish-from-pee-and-dead-skin-cells-and-floating-band-aids-mitigated-by-large-quantities-of-chlorine-pool. But to be honest, I imagine that’s how most public pools were then, and probably still are. Especially if other kids were as clueless as I was: having grown up mostly swimming (that is, wading for a long time and eventually ducking down to shoulder level just before I got out) in the Irish Sea, where if you needed to go, you just went, it was a while before it dawned on me that this wasn’t actually appropriate in an enclosed swimming pool. (I blame my parents. They should have mentioned it.)
In fact, a quick Google shows that the pool is still locally known as Blue Pool, though its official name has long changed. I’m sure it’s lovely now. And as far as I was concerned, it was lovely then. Swimming in an indoor pool was always a huge treat – for one thing, it was warm, far warmer than the sea – and … well, maybe that was it, but because I hardly ever went, I loved it when I did. Even the mortification of changing in front of other people (that is, huddling under a towel trying to pull up twisted knickers while I assumed everyone was watching me, critical of my every move) wasn’t enough to put me off.
So I didn’t get much swimming practice as a kid, is what I’m trying to say. It was lovely growing up so near the sea, and I miss being able to go down to the rocks and breathe deeply to drink in the ever-changing, ever-same blue-green expanse, and I would love nothing better than to be able to take my kids paddling and poking in rock pools and collecting seaweed and periwinkles and tiny white crabs; but it’s not the sort of sea you really spend much time swimming in, especially if you can’t actually swim yet but could do with some time in water to get confident.
When I was seven, we took one of our rare trips abroad for holidays. Usually we went to a farmhouse B&B down the country somewhere, but every five years or so (it turned out, though I don’t think it was planned that way) we went properly abroad (not just to England, which doesn’t count). When I was almost two, we went to Menorca, a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean. Sadly, I don’t really remember any of that. When I was seven, we went to Corfu, a Greek island off the coast of Albania. It was wonderful. It was my first experience with proper hot weather and warm blue translucent seas (not to mention mosquitoes and lizards and Greek dancing and scampi), and I’ve pretty much wanted to go back ever since.
So one day in Corfu in the warm water, I took myself over to the shallows and started swimming. And that was that. I had no form to speak of, and have never learned to do the crawl, but I think I have a passable breast stroke, which is what I use if I swim laps, like an old lady.
Anyway. Our hot weather has broken now, but we went to the pool every afternoon for most of the week. Last summer, Monkey went from clinging limpet-like to a parent to happily swimming about alone wearing his flotation vest – a huge step. This year, in three days, he abandoned the floatie and I looked down on Wednesday to see his arms and legs gyrating wildly and not touching the bottom at all. In essence, he’s swimming. Just not actually forwards.
As with the bike, there’s some backwardsing before he’ll progress again – for now, he won’t cycle anywhere but on our road, because apparently all other surfaces have intimidating slopes or bumps – and he was back in a brand-new, better-fitting floatie yesterday. (Mabel has inherited the other one. Which, though I’d love to see her swimming like a dolphin, is probably safer because I can’t be in all places at once. She does show a little more caution than last year, though, when she would have just kept on walking into the deep end if I hadn’t scooped her up before the water covered her and her little pink hat floated away merrily.) He doesn’t want to take lessons, so we just keep doing what we can, telling him to kick behind him and move his arms, and he’ll get there, some day.