More of What I’ve Learned

3 Jul

Last year was our first year in Israel. We live in a small town on a mountain, in sight of the Mediterranean Sea. It is beautiful. And HOT. And small. We arrived after the school year had started and got our kids settled into school and daycare. No problem. Then I started looking around for activities for the kids to do after school (remember, school here is over by 2 at the latest!).

We found a dance class for the girls to take and they were happy. But I also wanted them to have swimming lessons. At this point I discovered a number of things:

1. In Israel, kids don’t learn to swim until they are five years old. Meaning, they will not take a kid who is less than five into a lesson, even if she can already swim independently and just needs to learn the strokes.

2. They teach breast stroke first here. This was explained to me by my swim coach not long ago: “It’s Israel, we want to make things difficult for ourselves.” He agreed that it makes much more sense to teach front crawl first, since it’s easier, but didn’t know why Israelis insist on teaching breast stroke first.

3. There are no good swimming lessons in our town.

4. Swimming lessons are incredibly expensive here.

5. People don’t really swim all year ’round here, even though “winter” is sort of like fall back home, so the choice of lessons for winter was limited to one.

Have I mentioned that in my former life I was a lifeguard and swim instructor? Where I grew up, in the West Island of Montreal, there was this culture of outdoor summer pools. Everyone went to a summer pool from the time they were small, and we all did swimming lessons, diving lessons, synchro lessons, swim team, etc. We hung out at the pool and had a great time. As we got older and progressed through all the swimming badges, we went on to the Red Cross Life Saving courses. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a lifeguard, but my brother had done all the courses and it was pretty much expected that I would follow, so I did. It was something to do, got me going to the pool and was pretty interesting.

I was happy that I had done all the courses when I became I lifeguard and swim instructor at 16. I was able to work on the waterfront at my summer camp, and I got a great job at my favorite indoor pool for the winter. I had friends who weren’t lifeguards who ended up working crappy jobs that paid pretty badly, so I was always glad I had my lifeguarding certification to fall back on. Even when I went away to university, I was able to get a few hours a week guarding at an apartment pool that was pretty much empty whenever I was there. It paid well and I got to study or read for a few hours. But eventually, I stopped re-certifying my Nationals (the course that makes you a lifeguard in Canada) and moved on.

Fast forward ten years. See me looking for good swimming lessons for my kids, particularly my eldest, who was 5 last year. I decided that I may not be a lifeguard anymore, but I could still teach lessons. So, I called a friend who had a pool and a son my daughter’s age, and asked if they wanted their son to have swimming lessons. They were enthusiastic, so I built a class around the two of them and taught a ten lesson session. It was great, all the kids progressed and I made some money (actually, an astounding amount of money for four paying students, to me, but a normal amount for lessons here.). I must have passed the “good instructor” test, because these friends asked me to teach more, and to make classes for their two older daughters as well. So I did and it was great. My daughter didn’t behave so great in all the lessons, but she wasn’t terrible either.

That was last year. This year, I wanted all three of my older kids, who all (even the boy, who’s 3) swim independently and love the water. But I wanted them to learn skills. So I called back the friend from last year. Their son, who had been in the class last year, had done the one swimming activity all winter and didn’t need lessons. But they wanted something for their younger son, who is a few months younger than my boy, and some private lessons for their older daughter. And they told me I could run as many classes as I wanted. They liked that their kids would learn that there were some times that they couldn’t go in the pool and had to do something else (like homework, he said). I was amazed by their generosity and then got on with it and arranged classes around my three kids. Perfect, right?

Well, yes. It was perfect. For the other kids. Who were great. Who behaved. Who did what I asked them to do (for the most part). Who got out of the pool when their lessons were over. Who didn’t have tantrums in the middle of each lesson. Are you getting this? My kids, my daughters in particular, were pretty horrendous. They didn’t want to do “it,” only wanted do “it” if they went first, then wanted to do “it” even though they weren’t first, blah, blah, blah…I left pretty much every lesson annoyed at one or both of my girls, who just couldn’t make it through the lesson without some sort of misbehavor or tantrum.The boy wasn’t so bad. He just loves the water, and is a three year old boy with all kinds of three year old boy energy and mischief.

So my lesson for the week is this: I should not teach my own children. Outsourcing is good.

Although, the truth is that there were no other options, so I made the best of a bad situation. Part of the problem of living in a small town.

Have I mentioned that we are going to Montreal in a week and my girls will be at day camp, at the outdoor pool where I spent my youth, and have four swimming lessons a week? And the boy will be at another camp, but will have swimming lessons (even though he’s only 3) there too? With a teacher who is not me. I plan to watch the lessons. I have a sneaking suspicion that my girls will be perfect and will do everything the instructor asks them to do without a complaint. Even with a smile. They may even ask to do more. And I will sit there calmly and if anyone asks, I will agree that yes, they act like this all the time. Aren’t they sweet? What angels.

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