Jason Thacker & Owen Thacker, September 2013

How my 'scaredy cat' and
'mermaid' learned to swim...

"Hello?"
"Daddy?"
"Yes, what is it Owen?"
"Daddy, I didn't get my fifty metres badge."
He sounds down. I'm not quite sure how to handle disappointment in Portslade
from a Surrey office. I start to think of something to say.
"I got my 100 metres instead!"

Little so and so... prank call by a six year old! I swell with fatherly pride. It’s even better than the time he remembered to flush the loo and pick his pants up all in the same day!
Just eight months ago, however, I would have suspected that a call from him saying he'd done, say, five stokes or stuck his head under the water would have been a prank call. Owen had been terrified of going swimming, terrified of putting his head in, terrified, in fact, of having his hair washed. Now here he was swimming a distance that would be a struggle for me if I'd had a heavy weekend (well not without taking a breather anyway).

So how did this happen? To understand you first need to understand the folly of two things; overprotective and inexperienced parenting and attempting to treat both your children in exactly the same way.

When Owen was born wed just moved back to Hove from four years abroad where I worked my way round Asia and the Pacific as an ex pat. We didn't have a place of our own in Hove and therefore we rented my mother’s flat while we looked for somewhere. An arrangement that suited us fine, though we were not used to her heating or plumbing! Swapping Taipei where its 35° in the day and 32° at night (and yes that is centigrade) for Hove in autumn tricked us. We could work air conditioning just fine but as for heating a baby’s hath to the right temperature and maintaining the correct ambient temperature afterwards? Epic fail.

So it was that Owens first bath was too cold for him. He squealed. We whipped him out in to a towel but the room must have felt like an ice hotel to the poor little soul. He squealed again. First bath was not successful. Even less successful was first hair wash. Meanwhile we were very good indeed at mollycoddling him in other areas of upbringing. And so it came to pass that he associated water with the greatest tortures of his little life. Baby swimming followed by full swimming lessons didn't help. In baby swimming he would not go under the water. In the older class he would not even get in the car if he knew we were going swimming, Then we had Amy.

By now we were bath and ambient temperature ninjas! What’s more, it’s impossible to mollycoddle a second child - you're much more likely to absent mindedly leave them in the understairs cupboard instead! Amy loved her first bath. We signed her up for baby swimming sessions immediately which she also loved. She would cry if you didn't dunk her. On her first jump from the side she went for a little scuba dive sans breathing apparatus. "Not many do that" said Sue, the instructor. Sadly her ability only highlighted Owen's inability!

Finally, a friend said we should try one-to-one coaching with MXT Swim School. We signed him up and told him we were going to a football party to get him in the car. When he saw the pool, he howled. When he saw the shower, he screamed. Within fifteen minutes he was riding on Mario the instructor's back. Then he voluntarily dunked! He had responded to the one-to-one coaching instantly and with their wealth of experience, the swimming school had managed to make water fun in a way that had eluded me..
The next time we went swimming as a family he got me to dolphin ride him. Then we played 'face in the water games. Then a few months later I received that phone call about the swimming badge. It was like watching someone with a phobia of grass and spherical objects turn in to David Beckham.

Amy? She was happy in groups and graduated from her first class with honours before moving on to the next level. She still makes you dunk her and her eyes light up at the mention of swimming. She has done some intensive lessons with her older brother too. On the day he got his hundred metres she got her five metres. The day before that she jumped in from the springboard - she is two and a half years old! Now our family swimming sessions are the highlight of the weekend, but our children both started enjoying the water in very different ways!