This post is a chapter from our title Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree, by Claire (Burge) Haidar: “Toddler at 20: Creativity Needs the Giant Child Experience.”
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Miss Pam will shout at them. Pool noodles, towels, goggles, flip flops and clothes lie scattered around the rim of the pool. The huge floor-to-ceiling, three-storey glass window that looms over the shallow end of the water floods sunlight onto its surface, creating little diamonds I want to catch with a butterfly net. My mind starts racing: What the hell am I doing here? Why did I phone her five times and beg her to teach me? What was I thinking? I’m an adult and I’ve signed myself up for a toddler swimming class.
She looks at me, and I can see a wry smile playing at the corner of her mouth. I look ridiculous. I know it. I tower over these little people as if I am a giant. One of the little urchins starts counting all the people in the class: his designated duty and source of huge pride. This is a big responsibility. He taps each classmate on the head and counts loudly so all his friends know he is busy at work. He gets to me and his little hand hesitates, moving up my body but not able to reach my head. It moves slowly down, realising it can’t tap my breasts and ends on my tummy, where it stays as he slowly turns to look at the teacher.
“Miss Pam, do I need to count this lady, too?”
“Yes, Paulie, she’s part of your class; that’s why she’s standing on the side of the pool with all of you.”
“But I can’t tap her head to count her, Miss Pam.”
“That’s okay, Paulie. You can tap her tummy.”
“Okay, Miss Pam. ‘Number 22,’” he says bossily as he marches forward.
I might be six feet tall, but that means nothing in this water world. Pam sends them on their way and starts working with me on the side. Paulie takes great pride in knowing I am behind him in this process of paddles, strokes, kicks and breathing. He gets to warm up with the others while I get my head dunked under the water over and over again until Pam is certain that I can come up correctly for air and water. She keeps repeating this, telling me that the muscles in my neck are lifting up, as if I am going to drown. I need to relax and try and look at my legs and toes below the water, past my stomach. It takes great effort on my part to relax because it does feel as if I am going to drown and I really do need to come up for air more quickly than she is trying to train me to do. She keeps pushing my head down, holding it there, and bringing it up slowly. After what seems like five minutes, she announces that the lesson is over. I look at her incredulously and hear Paulie and Jacob laughing in the background.
She looks at me and says, “Well I can’t be dunking your head for another thirty minutes, can I?” I’m dismissed and told that I passed the first lesson with flying colours. She will see me again in two days.
So much for neck and back muscle strengthening after a car accident and repetitive physical therapy. I now have a delicious headache concocting itself in my neurons. I wonder if she will be seeing me back in two days when Paulie comes screeching past me. His hands land smack on my tummy. “Bye-bye Number 22. See you on Thursday.”
No backing out now, I think to myself.
On Thursday I return, towering like a beach umbrella next to little bottles of suntan lotion. I’ve been upgraded. I am allowed to do warm-up laps with the little urchins today. After ten minutes of that, I’m once again pulled aside. Today is hand- and arm-movement day. Pam is in the water with me showing me how my hand needs to cup inwards and pull down when it touches the surface of the water. She has all my weight propped up on her leg, which feels slightly awkward. My arm is being pulled back and then pushed forward at an unfamiliar angle. I can feel my nerves trying to adjust into new patterns of movement. They feel as awkward as I do.
I really should’ve chosen another gym for these lessons, I think to myself. Why did I choose the one gym where the rest of the workout area is built around the swimming pool? In most gyms, the pool is built in a separate area away from the weights, bikes and dance rooms.
But not here. In this one, the entire gym looks down on twenty-three urchins and one towering grownup attending swim classes. Hindsight tells me this was a bad choice. Better think things through next time.
Pam is thankful, though. A month later she has to create two adult swim classes due to popular demand and repetitive questions by curious onlookers from the gym, asking if they, too, could join the swim class.
Photo by 姐夫 吳, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by Claire Haidar.
Discuss With Friends (Or Use in Personal Journaling)
1. Have you ever found yourself in situation where you were distinctively older or younger than the rest of the group? What kinds of feelings did this arouse?
2. What’s the best thing you’ve discovered about yourself when being with another age group? What’s the best thing you’ve discovered about life—ways to be, think, or do—when being with another age group?
3. Claire describes her situation as being like a “beach umbrella next to little bottles of suntan lotion.” What is a metaphor that could describe your experience as the “odd generation out”? In your journal or as a group writing prompt, use that metaphor in a poem or short vignette.
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As my husband and I waited for the rest of the writing class to show up, we joked about what the other students might nickname us: Grampa and Gramma, Nana & Papa?
With our youngest off to college we had decided to enroll in a creative writing class at our local community college.
Shortly we would find ourselves to be the oldest two of the dozen people in our class – by far. The only other person to come anywhere close to our age was a veteran who looked like he could be in his thirties. Everyone else looked at most to be freshman.
When the instructor arrived we were happy to see we had at least one peer in the room.
I think it helped that we were all on a first name basis. As the semester progressed we felt less like oddballs and more like fellow students and writers.
The workshop model our teacher used further leveled the playing field since we all shared our pieces and gave and received feedback to and from each other.
Creative Writing 101 proved to be a pleasant and beneficial experience.