Swim Test

Unlike me, my kids are a bunch of water bugs when it comes to swimming. Swimming is one of those things that never really stuck with me after I grew up. Perhaps this is because my sisters and I never went that often. Once each summer our mother would take us for a day at the Lake Erie peninsula where the lake’s docile waves would toss our bony little bodies back onto the gravely shore. Sometimes, if we were lucky, a well-off friend would invite us over to their pool, but mostly we just damned up the small creek behind our house and sat in muddy, knee-deep water.

My kids also have a good size creek running through our backyard, but they would much rather prefer the new outdoor pool at our local YMCA. It’s not that they are averse to playing in the creek (and then tracking mud through the house); it’s just that the pool has a thirty-foot water slide, a playground, a whirlpool, fountains, and a zip line. Needless to say we spent more than a few weekends there over the summer.

However, there was a stipulation attached to using some of the pool’s features—children under 15 must pass a swim test. It’s not a bad rule to have, and I wasn’t worried about my kids making the grade. They’ve had classes in the past, and true to form they all passed, earning a green wrist band that allowed them to enjoy everything the pool had to offer.

Now, the way the system is supposed to work is, once you pass the swim test the lifeguard takes down your name and date of birth and then enters this info into the computer so you don’t have to retake the test every time you come to the pool. For some unknown reason, however, this did not happen for my 11 and nine year-old sons which meant they would have to take the swim test once more. Again, I didn’t anticipate any problems as they swam the length of the pool, tread water, and floated on their backs according to the lifeguard’s instructions.

But something was wrong. As they talked with the lifeguard I noticed twinges of disappointment growing on their faces, and by the time the boys reached me tears mixed with the water dripping from their bodies.

“He said we didn’t pass,” they both sobbed as they hugged me.

I was empathetic at first, as well as a little surprised.

Watching their reaction, the lifeguard came over to offer his reasoning. My middle son, he explained, hadn’t entered the pool properly (he slid in rather than jumping and submerging his whole body), while my other son started to get tired towards the end.

Ticky tacky? Sure, but if I’ve learned one thing during my time in the Army it’s that the standard is the standard. I must have taken hundreds of hands-on tests for various certifications where an instructor evaluated my performance as either a “go” or a “no go.” I can’t say I was always a “go” on every task, and it lead to some big disappointments, but even so, I couldn’t argue with the instructors. It was their job to uphold the standards, and even if they were wrong it still would’ve be a losing battle. The only recourse, then, was to redo the task at hand until I met the qualifications. That’s life.

I looked at the failed swim test in the same light. Arguing with the lifeguard wouldn’t have done any good, and I would’ve looked like a jerk anyway getting up in the face of a seventeen year-old kid. In fact, before walking off, the lifeguard actually thanked me for understanding. He had apparently already heard an earful from more than a few moms and dads.

Returning to my sons I let them know that they could try again in an hour. Hearing this, my youngest son dried his eyes and went straight to the starting point of the test so he could be the first in line. I smiled, rubbed his head and told him he still had some time to play yet.

My middle son’s reaction was different.

“I don’t want to swim anymore,” he pouted, curling up is his towel.

Call me a hard-ass but this attitude didn’t sit well with me. My son is naturally athletic and excels at whatever sport he’s playing unless he does poorly and then he wants to suddenly quit. Sorry, but that’s now how things work, pal. You don’t get to just quit because you failed at something. There was a mild sternness in my voice. “You’re going to retake that test.”

“No. I don’t want to,” he repeated.

This annoyed me. If there’s one thing I want my kids to learn about life it’s that you don’t quit.

“Okay,” I said. “Then you sit there and don’t even think about playing in the pool until you change your attitude.”

And he sat there for an hour at which time the lifeguard announced they would be doing another swim test which my youngest son was already in line for and soon passed.  I high-fived him as he took off for the zip line. Then I turned to his brother. “Are you ready?” I asked.

“I’m not doing it,” he sulked.

His stubbornness got my ire as I believe my next words were something to the effect of, “You get your skinny little ass up off that chair and retake that test now.” 

Finding motivation he didn’t know he had, my son promptly went straight to the pool, hopped in, and aced it.

As he got out of the water I was there to greet him. He was all smiles, and I gave him a big hug along with a short pep talk. “There are things you’re going to fail at in life. Things are not going to happen the way you want them, and it might not even be your fault, but you can’t give up. Understand?”

He nodded and I told him how proud I was before he left to join his brother.

Last week my company laid me off. It wasn’t because of anything I had done wrong. The company had lost some major accounts; it was hurting their profitability, and they wanted to get away from people working remotely. The owner couldn’t even say they were letting me go; I had to do it for him. But I understood. This is how business works. I’ve been here before five years ago, and here I am again. Now I have to jump back into the pool. 

That’s life.

After passing the swim test my middle son takes on the zip line

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