It might be a skill for life, but I wasn’t prepared for the sweat, damp children, noise, bragging or the rush for the shower at swimming lessons, writes Amanda Cassidy
When I’m on my deathbed, I will shake my wrinkled fist at the ceiling and curse all those years I lost sweating beside the swimming pool watching my children taking lessons.
Don’t get me wrong, the philosophy is sound. Safety and water confidence is important. We have a responsibility to make sure they can stay afloat if they fall into a body of water. It's a bonus if they can butterfly their way safely back to shore.
It is a gift that will keep them safe on family holidays, while messing about in lakes on their J1 and, hopefully, even when they are sea swimming in their 40s (this is now a thing).
Related: The art of raising polite children
While it is unlikely that my children are ever going to be Olympic-material, I believe that swimming, like most things that underpin motherhood, is one of those mildly irritating but ultimately necessary boxes we have to tick.
However, I wasn’t prepared for the sweat, damp children, noise, bragging, rush for the shower and general hullabaloo that comes with organised swimming lessons. (And all that after queuing up at 7am last term to get the places).
There’s nowhere else on earth where a mother will lose her sh*t quite like in the changing rooms after swimming class.
Today you might be a calm earth mother. It is the day you are going to prove it to yourself. Your voice is dangerously high but you take a deep breath and persevere. It is hours before the dreaded swim lesson. You've got this.
Fuuudge, where are the goggles?
The search is on. You find five gumshields despite having searched for them for 20 minutes the morning before. Stupid gumshields. Still no goggles, though. You reassess the situation– you’ll just have to buy another pair at swimming later. You attempt to teach your children lessons on responsibility and accountability by begging them to put in the shampoo and hairbrush. Epic fail.
"Don’t forget my goggles," comes a voice from behind a screen. You are a terrible mother, but on the upside, at least they will be able to swim.
This is a nice stage, the nicest stage. You are jigged up after a bit of Lady GaGa in the car. You are only 10 minutes late which is a PB, thank you very much. The kids float in, shed their clothes and are in the pool in seconds. Break time!
You skip around to the seating area to watch your offspring having a super time and bingo, there’s your first mistake: complacency. Two out of three are looking thunderous. You remember goggle-gate and curse under your breath.
Thirty euro down and beginning to sweat, you return to your seat and wince silently as you see Other Mum coming towards you.
Other Mum has a child called Luke who is amazing at everything. Luke is also gorgeous and sweet and it is unfathomable that his mother is related to him. You both watch him glide gracefully through the water as if he was swimming through washing up liquid.
Out of the corner of your eye, you spot a mini-tsunami in the shape of your son. His bottom is in the air and he is kicking his way diagonally across the pool where he tangles himself in the rope divide.
I try to forget I'm paying a small fortune to have this experience.
"Luke has been chosen for the school gala and he’s starting life-saving training on Friday evenings. He’s wrecked," Other Mum informs you. "How’s…" she nods towards my son who is still tangled in the rope, living his best life. "Rugby is his thing," I smile thinly, as I suddenly notice the unbearable heat.
It is a well known fact that swimming lesson operators turn the temperature up several degrees just to torture the waiting parents – a punishment for asking to switch class times so often. I try to forget I'm paying a small fortune to have this experience.
After half an hour of listening to Luke's list of sporting achievements since birth, I squelch myself off the bench and head back towards the changing room. Stampede time.
Death by damp 7-year-olds...what a way to go. Fifty of them run towards the three showers, shivering and discarding soggy swim hats as they go.
The mums are ready and waiting - our sleeves are rolled up, our side bags tucked behind us, shampoo and conditioner in our hands as we corral wet children towards the showers, inspecting each freckled face to find our own offspring.
"Quick, quick, quick, let’s go, hurry, hurry, rinse, no, rinse more!” We urge all together like a strange mummy mantra. Heaven knows why are we all in such a rush to race home and cook dinner.
Tangles are teased out, we pat down our damp children while we pat our own sweating brows.
This is seriously physical work. We roll on socks, jam the wet gear into a bag, stop them putting their socks back down on the wet floor. All this, multiplied by three in my case, in a space of exactly 2 foot by 2 foot at 45 degrees Celsius.
We roll on socks, jam the wet gear into a bag, stop them putting their socks back down on the wet floor.
Inevitably someone loses their sh*t completely. Today it is the lady next to me. But we’ve all been that soldier. "CARA! CAaaaaara! Get out of that locker NOW. I’ve asked you nicely and now I’m getting really annoyed. CARA! Ok, fine, no Ipad for the rest of the day. Don’t be so cheeky. Ok, I’m leaving. Bye, bye, Cara. Bye, I'm leaving now."
Later in the carpark, I see that particular mother marching back inside the building, her face full of stifled rage that she totally plans to release in the car. There is still no sign of Cara but she is in So. Much. Trouble.
As we pile into the car – 75% of us crying, Other Mum slides into her pristine car beside us. I scramble to close my car door over slightly so she doesn’t see the baby wipes, the crumbled Liga and playschool artwork that regularly invade our child-mobile.
"We might see your little guy at the rugby blitz tomorrow – does he need a lift?" I wedge the swimming bag into the foothold praying that my son (who mostly ignores everything I say) remains selectively deaf for the next 30 seconds.
"No, it’s grand, thanks though," I say breezily. But as I shut the door, we both clearly hear the voice in the backseat pipe up. "But I don’t play rugby, mum."
I glance back at her confused face, mortified but also pretending that none of this is happening. I smile and wave manically and start my 27-point turn out of the car parking space because…giant child-mobile.
As we zip up the road, hungry, tired and in various states of dampness, my daughter informs me that we've left the goggles behind.
Would it be really the worst thing if my children wore armbands forever?
Read more: What I should have known before going to Universal Orlando
Read more: When your friends treat your kids as their own
Read more: Five fantastic children's books