BY LISA BURKETT
SANDBRIDGE — I dreaded a summertime tradition in my family. It happened each June, and it involved an involuntary evacuation of my family’s den during the most precious time of a child’s newly minted summer vacation.
My younger brother and I were dragged away from the end of Petticoat Junction as the music from Lassie was coming on. Remember the Lassie theme? I can’t think of that sad, sweeping music now without thinking back to that dreaded month of June.
We didn’t eat breakfast before we left the house because my mother didn’t want us to get cramps.
Dressed in a bathing suit, wrapped in old towels, my brother and I were taken in the family car and dropped off at the old Pembroke Lakes apartments on Independence Boulevard.
The event we dreaded, the torture we succumbed to for two weeks straight, was swimming lessons.
My mother believed that if we were going to grow up here in Virginia Beach, we needed to learn how to handle ourselves in the water. I have no disagreement with teaching children to swim at a young age, but it was the time of day that got to me.
We always signed up for the 8 a.m. class. There was a 10 a.m. class, but we never got in line early enough at the city parks and recreation sign ups at Pembroke Mall to get into the 10 a.m. class.
The 8 a.m. class was for the children who would be frozen like popsicles for an hour before the decent warmth of the sun would start to make itself present. The 10 a.m. class was like getting to go to a sunny resort playground with a water slide and a diving board.
The 10 a.m. kids would turn around at the signups and look down the long line of 8 a.m. kids and grin and shake their heads at us.
Getting to the pool seemed to be the same every day. The instructor told us to stand by the pool around the deep end. About 25 children stood there shivering and waiting for her next words.
“Alright, towels off, and get in the pool.”
Taking the towel off was emotionally scarring. I had goose bumps all over, and now they were making me jump into the arctic frost. I remember the feel of the water, as though I had just jumped into a bag of ice like my dad would buy at the grocery store.
Some other children held onto the side of the pool with one hand. I clung there with both hands, my toes walking up the frigid side of the underwater tiles trying to keep my body above the water line.
Then we were told to hold on with two hands and put our face in the water, blow bubbles into the pool, then raise our head and breathe. This was crazy. My traitorous brother – “I kinda like swimming lessons once we get there” – was having fun. He liked the water. He could get “used” to it. Once we jumped in, it was every child for themself so I rarely looked to see where he was. I struggled with the water alone.
These years of terrified swim lessons did not end with me getting my lifeguarding certificate. I did finally make it to the intermediate level, which meant I could stay afloat on my back for five horrible minutes.
Of course, as my mom knew, it’s important to know how to swim when you live in Virginia Beach.
Through my teenage years and young adulthood, even now as a middle age person, I am comfortable in the water. Though I am not a good swimmer, I am not afraid of the water.
I make smart decisions about body surfing and jumping out of moving boats. I know when I start to feel an undertow at the beach, which is most important. I am confident that, if I was in trouble at the beach, I could stay afloat for five minutes until someone came to get me.
And surely this would only happen after 10 a.m.
Burkett is a Virginia Beach native and University of Richmond graduate who has been in marketing for over 25 years. She is a writer and photographer who owns her own craft business. Burkett has four children, ages 15 to 30. She lives in Sandbridge.
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