Don’t go near the water!

When I was about 9 years old, my parents paid for swimming lessons. My dad did so under protest, because he had never had swimming lessons. Apparently when I was much younger he had tried, once, to teach me to swim the way he had learned: during a fishing trip he threw me into the creek.

I have no real recollection of this. I have had nightmares about drowning, and for the longest time I would have a bit of a panic if my face went underwater, but I don’t remember his attempt. I’m told That I just screamed and went under, sinking like a rock. And when he decided to pull me out, I struggled free and ran until I found someone to tell that my dad had tried to kill me.

So, some years later I had lessons. I learned how not to drown, but I didn’t like being in the water, so I never got good at it.

During the summer that I was taking those lessons, it seemed every conversation between adults near me was about whether swimming lessons were a good idea. There were people who agreed with my dad: if I couldn’t learn by being thrown in, I deserved to drown someday. Others thought maybe just a friend of the family or another relative should be able to do it without the expense. A few thought if you didn’t learn before a particular age, you never could. One particluar woman from our church, I recall, said it was okay for boys to take swimming lessons, but not girls, because “while they’re learning, some guy is going to take them out there and turn into an octopus.”

(I thought the image was hilarious, even after someone explained they were talking about sexual assault; come on, an inexperienced swimmer can pull a good swimmer trying to rescue them to a mutual death, you think someone fighting off a groper can do less?)

When another woman pointed out they could get lessons from a female teacher, and it would be better to know how to swim, in case they ever fell into the water somewhere, than not.

“I just stay away from the water, and so will my daughters!”

Which is very shortsighted, but then we approach many things about young people’s education that way, like abstinence-only sexual education. The latter is far more dangerous than not teaching kids how to swim. Statistics show that kids with abstinence-only sex ed are absolutely no less likely to have sex sooner than their parents think they ought, and far, far, far more likely to have unprotected sex when they do.

And don’t get me started on all the myths and misunderstandings about sex that plague people for decades into unhappy marriages!

Not teaching kids truthfully about sex is like not teaching them about healthy food. Yes, you need to pick age-appropriate levels of disclosure, but it is a natural part of life, and just as important to one’s health, mental and otherwise.

But, hey, If you want to stick with, “Just stay away!” I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

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