Today was our first day of swimming lessons. While Ahmir, my 4 year old, was like a fish out of water – scared, timid, shaky – at least he resembled a fish. I was amazed at what the instructor got my notoriously skittish little one to do – let go of the side (while holding him, of course), straighten out his arms like an airplane, kick, put his chin and eventually his mouth in the water. My daughter Amina, on the other hand, at almost 3, actually cried and wouldn’t get into the big pool. She did eventually walk in the baby pool, with much prodding by me, but she did not live up to what I expected for my $24 half-hour lesson.
But we are going to stick with it, as ridiculously expensive the lessons are, because I want my children to know how to swim. Black children drown at a rate of almost 3 times that of white children, and mostly that is because they don’t know how to swim. I can understand, because embarrissingly enough, I also don’t know how to swim. Many black adults, epecially those that I know were raised in the Northeast region of the country, don’t know how to swim. And while the reasons run the gamut from lack of access to pools (the public pools in Philly during the summer were so jam packed there was no room to swim!), to the expense of lessons, one of the most troubling reasons is a fear of water.
Again, I can understand. I’m terrified of water. Really, I’m terrified of drowning. But isn’t that ironic – I’m scared to drown, so I don’t learn to swim?
Fear is drowning us adults and our children, and honestly robbing them of a sport and a exercise that does not need to be held back from them. Granted, the lessons are hella expensive, and my checkbook is hurting right now, but I know that I am giving my children a skill that lasts a lifetime. Furthermore, water is one of the most precious things we have on this earth, and one of the most beautiful. When I hear of people diving off cliffs in St. Lucia into pristine waters, or exploring underwater caves, I want my children to be able to experience this wonderful natural resource and engage with it, not be in fear of it.
And you are probably asking – well, what about you, LaToya? Are you going to get over your fear and learn to swim? As soon as a recreation class in beginning swimming fits into my schedule, I’m there. I don’t want my life ruled by fear of anything.
P.S. And while we’re talking summer health, don’t forget the sunscreen. Brown folks do get skin cancer.