Tom Darling

On Mondays I take my son swimming.

I don’t get in the pool. I just pay for someone else to teach him for half an hour.

I hate it.

I hate it because I am a control freak and I cannot understand why he cannot just swim. Of course I can really, because there are plenty of things in life I struggle with on a daily basis and I know what it feels like to want to do something but repeatedly never quite get my shit together, even though I know I could, can and will one day.

I think it is very difficult, however, when you can do something yourself, and you can do it with ease, to translate those feelings of the things you can’t do to someone else when they are failing at something you are good at. Well, it is for me, anyway.

I have to sit on my hands, and sometimes even that doesn’t work, and I find myself shouting incoherent things, and flapping my arms around like a deranged bird. Which is no help to him or me.

I have always found in situations where my children have to be taught something that I cannot teach them, that the best option is just to go away and let the teacher teach. That way the children are not intimidated, the teacher is not intimidated, lessons usually go brilliantly, and I can go and listen to Radio Four in the car park, which makes me happy.

Sadly, swimming lessons aren’t like that. I actually have to be there.

I hate sitting on the side of a moist, damp, hot swimming pool anyway. I hate making small talk with other parents. I hate the way the screams of the babies and other random toddlers who litter the side of the pool waiting for their siblings, echo into the rafters.

I hate the fact that there is no tea room, and no wi fi to distract me, and even when I take a book I find it impossible to concentrate as Oscar asks me minutely detailed questions about his lesson after every one, and I don’t want to fail the test.

So I sit and wait in anguish, until it is over.

This week I was greatly cheered by the antics of a small boy who was waiting to get into the pool for the next lesson after Oscar’s. He really was a dot of a thing. Five years old at the most. His mother was sitting next to me, watching one of her other children swimming whilst keeping an eye on her son, who was nonchalantly lounging against the roll of the pool cover at the shallow end, pleased with his own independence.

He would quite often drift off into a reverie of whatever small boys think about (best not probed too deeply), and as he did so, one of his hands would unconsciously glide down his belly, into the waistband of his shorts, and proceed to comfortingly grab his small boy bits.

He clearly does this a lot as, as soon as his eagle eyed mother spotted him, she would shout: ‘Tom, Darling!’ (not his name), and as he looked at her she would mime taking his hand out of his pants and flourishing it in the air in the manner of Paul Daniels having pulled off a particularly excellent magic trick.

He would copy her, not looking in the slightest bit abashed.

Two seconds later, his other hand would slide down into his waistline.

Two seconds later, ‘Tom, Darling!’ and the gliding flourish of the mimed trick.

At one point he put both hands down there and she had to do a two handed gesture which looked as if she had finished first on the balance beam in the Olympics.

It went on for about fifteen minutes, and delighted my heart to such an extent that the lesson just flew by.

At no point did the child see why his mother was making such a fuss. By the end of it he looked positively weary as she ‘Tom, Darling’d’ him, but he manfully did as he was told.

Until the next time.

Watching this, of course, made me flunk my test as to Oscar’s prowess in the pool as we drove home.

No olympic medal for me.

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