Staying above water

For various common sense reasons and because they love the water, we’ve undertaken to teach the kids how to swim. The husband is a good swimmer, he learned how to swim in school way back in East Germany where it was mandatory on the school curriculum. The communists didn’t do much by halves and he learned well. He is now teaching our son to swim and even after many reasonably early Sunday morning starts to head off to the pool, they are both still enjoying these sessions and Alexander is steadily gaining confidence and technique.

My daughter and I started going to a weekly swimming course in early September.  We go to a nice, if small, swimming pool in a local rehabilitation centre, only suitable for little people or those in need of not much more than ‘on-the-spot’ water therapy.  It’s just 30 minutes in the water per week with 8 kids under the age of 8, so it’s never dull. Or quiet.

Swimming here in Norway is seen as a necessary survival skill, what with all of those lakes and fjords to jump or fall into. And ever with the insightful view, the husband reckons that swimming is much more important here these days than running, now that the wild wolf population has depleted significantly.

It’s possible that I have a bit of a hang-up about swimming as I didn’t learn to swim properly until I was an adult. I really believe that people should be able to swim properly as it’s within almost everyone’s capability and it opens up a whole world of joy in the water. I’ve also read Robinson Crusoe and you never know when a ship might sink and you have to swim your way to a desert island.

My mother used to love recalling a particular story from when I was a child, about the day she came to see me swimming in the local swimming pool in Tuam in the west of Ireland. Swimming was a firm favourite activity in the long summer days, cycling the 3 miles to the local swimming pool with my brother and sister and later with my friends. This particular day was the first time my mother saw me in the water. I was keen to show off my technique, which included a swim ring and moving across the water splashing and kicking with every ounce of energy I had. My mother sat up in the viewing area and looked down at her youngest child with pride and a whole lot of laughter as it turns out. She told me years later that it was the best doggy paddle she’d ever seen and that was notwithstanding the many dogs she had seen swimming.

You see, it was great fun back then messing about in the water for a few hours but with no instruction at all, I never learned to swim properly as a child. We weren’t taught in school and while I could manage to do a length or two, I was never that comfortable or confident in the water. If out of my depth, I’d be the one just a few degrees away from panic.

Nora’s swimming coach is a young Norwegian guy in his twenties and he’s absolutely great with the kids. Parents are a vital part of the lessons, both to help the kids with the various exercises and, of course, to keep them alive. My only challenge is that the instructor speaks in rapid Norwegian in a noisy, kid-squealing, splashing environment and so I find it hard to understand what he is saying sometimes. There have been times when Nora was doing anything but synchronised swimming with the others because, well, we just didn’t know any better. I am not as good yet at making sense of a partial sentence or random words in Norwegian as I am in English, especially if there is loads of background noise. When booking the course, they did check language requirements for the child, i.e. does the child understand Norwegian, which I remember thinking was wise and considerate. But with excited hyper kids of that age, it’s the accompanying grown-up who needs to keep with the plot as very often, they are the only ones listening.  When I explained the challenge to Nora, she was very helpful in fairness and offered to save the situation going forward… all I needed to do was tell her what the coach said in Norwegian and she would translate into English for me. Hmmm, if only I knew, darling, if only I knew.

For the last month or so when I’ve been ill, the husband has taken over the swimming lessons. He’s loving it as I did, as Nora is brave and ecstatic in the water. He doesn’t seem to have the same comprehension problems as me (or if he does, he’s not admitting to it).  The only problem is that out of the 8 kids, 6 are normally accompanied by their Dads and with only 2 showers in the men’s area, there is no quick shower and getaway afterwards, more like a chilly, towel-wrapped queue for all but the speedy. Asking what took them so long as they come in the door after swimming, is a line of questioning that doesn’t generally go down well…

Swimming is also taught in primary school here when kids are approx, 10 years old. This is with mixed success according to what’s in the media but based on general Norwegian no nonsense efficiency, I’m choosing to be a believer. From 2017/2018 school year, Utdanningsdirektoratet or the Department of Education has introduced a ‘proficiency test’ which kids are expected to pass at the end of 4th grade, which is again at approx. 10 years old.  The idea is that they learn swimming at school and then pass this test to prove it, including jumping or diving into deep water, treading water and swimming 100 metres. It’s very impressive and I can say with some confidence that no doggy paddler will manage this.

As for me, pride as well as a desire to do some voluntary work in Africa where swimming ability was a must, meant that I just had to lose the swim ring in adult years. So I found myself an instructor in London some years ago, a fine Australian life-saving lad, who taught me proper swimming techniques. I still remember how good it felt to leave the doggies behind with certainty and confidently join the humans in the water.



  1. Another great read Carmel, hope to see you soon all fighting fit xxx

    • Thanks so much Margaret, and recovery has been better than I could have hoped for thankfully. See you soon. Yours, MLM.

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