Allowing others to take responsibility for one’s kids is tough. Until recently, I was doing everything in my power to remain an overprotective papa for Ariana and Elin. Every morning, I take the girls to school – which also happens to be my workplace. At lunchtime, I breathe easier when I can see them causing chaos on the monkey bars while I’m warming up my noodles in the staff room. I find myself mulling over ways to extend their time in the nest; perhaps the announcement of a new “Chaoyang University” in my xiaoqu would do the trick. At dinner, I assure them that working for Mama’s company when they grow up will leave them both financially and spiritually enriched.
However, Ariana has begun to spread her wings lately. Or, more specifically, losing her water wings in our local pool. In the past, we attached her to so many floats to her that she was in danger of becoming airborne. As she attempted to move her limbs, I made sure to always be in the pool with her. However, if Ariana’s swimming skills were ever to progress beyond a frantic five-second doggy paddle, I realized that I’d have to allow a professional to take my place.
Things began swimmingly enough. The instructor had Ariana lay on her belly on the side of the pool. He proceeded to maneuver her legs so that they resembled those of a frog, as opposed to those of a drowning puppy. So far, so good. But to my horror, the next stage was to have Ariana enter the 1.2m-deep pool – enough to completely cover her head. The instructor himself remained dry, his only point of contact with my daughter being a hollow pole that she may or may not have been able to clutch if something happened. To spare myself a heart attack, I played with Elin in the water while remaining on standby in case her sister needed me.
Lesson one passed without incident. However, the situation became more precarious when I had hotpot for dinner the night before lesson two. Gory details aside, it’s safe to say that Ariana would have to go it alone. To my dismay, the floats that were tied around Ariana’s waist during lesson one were dispensed with. I aged about 15 years as she jumped into the water, disappeared from view, and resurfaced on a foam board.
The following moments played out frame by frame, my body rising out of its seat each time another swimmer thrashed within a 5m radius of Ariana or she clutched and missed for the side of the pool as she finished a length. Gradually, my breathing became more composed as she grew in confidence, her gasps for air replaced with balanced breaths. Noticing that her sister began to “look like a mermaid,” Elin asked if she’d be allowed to take her arm bands off next time we were in the water. As I turned pale, she immediately asked: “Why do you look all funny, baba?”