Two new badges for my two little swimmers

I still have all of my Brownie badges—one where I helped make a campfire, another where I got to teach some sort of folk dance all of the other Brownies. Even a sports one, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t deserve that one.

But sadly, I don’t have my swimming badges. Those were hard one, especially my red badge that I had to take three or four times over because I just couldn’t tread water. And my Green badge—I still remember how cold the pool was that summer. My teacher was Greg and he was a hard-ass and we were all scared of him, and we all thought had failed until that last triumphant moment on the very last class. For my White badge, I had to do butterfly, which kept me away every night for two weeks. After I got my Blue badge, my pal Peter’s mom told my mom how graceful my backstroke was. I've never forgotten that.

Kids still get badges, but not for the preschool round of lessons, which is a shame because I'm all for getting kids hooked on the reward of getting badges early! But that's never stopped me before (see Exhibit A and B). I commemorated my son's first ever round of swimming lessons with his Inchworm Kick badge and his bubble blowing badge.

For the record, the baby should've passed Guardian 1—she actually did everything to pass her level in the first class—bubbles, head dunking, kicking, the whole nine yards. She is fearless and brave and loves the water more than anything. 

Though truthfully, I don’t actually care of my kids pass swimming lessons or not at the moment (will this change as they get older? Maybe). But at this stage, it's all about falling in love with the water, figuring out how their bodies can move in it, learning to trust that the water can hold them up. 

But I'm all about celebrating everything, so I made them both badges—one to commemorate my son's new found love of the water and his bravery during his first round of parent-free swimming lessons. And the one for my daughter celebrates her bubble-blowing and head-dunking— my braveheart water baby who astounded me with her courage.

And then we had chocolate sundaes with smarties on the porch (which I regretted two minutes after it was done because of the sugar madness), but it was still felt like an important thing to commemorate and celebrate.
  • Lindsay
  • Tuesday, August 28, 2018

10 (!) days left: make it count with a dip and a picnic

There are only 10 (10!) days left in the outdoor pool season. It’s time to make everyone of those days count. So may I suggest a day at the Alex Duff pool followed by a picnic at Christie Pits?! 

(If you’re not organized – because who is? It's late August – you can always pick up picnic supplies at the north east end of the park at the best grocery store in the city. Fiesta Farms!)

I've written about the joys of the Alex Duff pool before, but a quick recap: there's SO much deck space, a shallow-shallow pool for kids, a shallow pool for slightly bigger kids, a deep end with a twirly slide and diving board AND a permanent lane swim lane set up. And there’s a universal change room, and a whole area for stroller parking! And then, when you're done, there's a ginormous, gloriousness of Christie Pits waiting for you and your picnic blanket!

Go! Go!! Swim and picnic the last 10 days away!

(PS: may I recommend the revelation of the summer and the best pre-post swim snack I've ever had? The Meat Roll-up: cheese, a pickle, a smear of mustard wrapped in salami (or more deliciously bresaola, basil leaf option!)

  • Lindsay
  • Friday, August 24, 2018

The very best Toronto swim I've ever had

I grew up a short bike ride from Lake Ontario and we'd go to the Island every summer. We were swimmers, my whole family, but never once did we venture into the lake. Growing up, we were told you'd grow an extra leg if you ever set foot in Lake Ontario.

BUT the water quality has totally changed since the 80s and there are the most beautiful blue flag beaches, and so, with tips from Toronto walker/swimmer/ Shawn Micallef, my family took the Hanlan's Point ferry, then walked and walked (and somehow got the baby to sleep), following the signs for the clothing optional beach. We ducked under a beautiful wooden arbour, then dragged the stroller through the sand (stroller was great for hauling all of our stuff and for doubling as a crib for the baby, but not ideal in the sand!). I had no idea there were dunes on the west side of the island, but there we were, in thick rolling sand. It felt like Sandbanks-lite. And then, poof, a lake that looked like an ocean, clear and blue, and stretching on for forever.

It was actually breathtaking. I had the seize the moment (the sleeping baby moment) and I hopped in. There wasn't much shade, so we set the baby up under the shadow of the lifeguard tower and got to work: my fella was skipping stones, the kiddo was looking for perfect rocks and I went swimming.

There's a huge sandbar so I swam out to the buoys and could still stand (!) and I swam and I swam – stroke-stroke-CN Tower, stroke-stroke-neverending ocean-like horizon. It still astounds me. It was hands down the best swim I've ever had in Toronto. The beach was nearly empty. We were right on the line between the clothing optional beach and the clothing mandatory beach and there were maaaaaaybe five people for as far as we could see.

I swam and swam, then laid on a towel and the kid piled rocks on me. When the baby woke up, we wandered over to Gibraltor Point for a picnic and let her get her feet wet, 'cause the only person who loves swimming more than me is Claire.

We then walked to Centreville and took the kids on their first amusement park ride – a twirl on the 112-year-old carousel! The kiddo named his lion "Nana Ruth" and the toddler hopped on a pig and was the happiest I've ever seen her (roller coasters, watch out!)

Some tips:
- Pack chips. We didn't. I still regret it.
- We took the UP train and walked from Union Station - it was a DREAM compared to the last time I did a trip to the Island with a stroller that involved a bus, two subways, and LRT, a ferry and too many stairs/broken elevators to count...
- If you can, go mid-week.
- If you're sans little kids, rent one of the multi-person bikes!
- A pal noted the water taxis are amazing if you have kids who can't handle lines (or if you're the kid who can't handle lines, no judgment!)
- If you do take the ferry (which I LOVE - the orange ceiling of stuffed-together life jackets, the view of the CN Tower from the upper deck, the sunscreen coated kids, etc etc), make sure you hop on Jack Layton's tandem bike. Makes me happy-teary every time.
- The walk from the Hanlan's Point ferry terminal is a bit far for young kids – it's about 1km, worth it, but I'm glad we brought the back pack carrier for the kiddo and the stroller for the toddler. I've heard there's a great swimmable beach really close to the Ward's Island ferry terminal - I'm going to try it next time!

I can't wait till the kids are old enough to get the four-person bikes!

  • Lindsay
  • Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Summerary: the most perfect swim AND 2018's most perfect docktail

Every summer I have THE swim, the one I will remember in the heart of February. This year, the lake at the cottage we rent for a week every summer was still as glass after days of wind and whitecaps. The sun was shining and when I was halfway down the lake, I heard a loon call, and there they were, our family of loons (an asylum of loons!), not far from where I was swimming.

Confession: I was a bit terrified. They are such big birds and their beaks are so sharp and they swim so fast, but it also felt pretty magical to be sharing the water with them.

The other banner swim happened on the one night my fella and I managed to get down to the dock after the kids were asleep. We were sitting with docktails (recipe below!) and all of a sudden, a rainbow appeared over the lake, so OF COURSE I had to jump in for a late night dip.

I love the pace of cottaging. I love that time somehow bellies and slows down in a way it never seems to in the city. I managed to read 6 (!) books, between the dock and sitting outside my 3.5-year-old's room waiting for him to stop talking about frogs and GO TO SLEEP ALREADY. I swam every single day and jumped in and jumped in and jumped in again. I really feel like I'm making up for so many years hanging off ladders. The joy of jumping in has not dimmed in the last three summers, not one bit.

We visited my beloved grandparents' dear friend from 50+ years ago and hung out with the loon family (I know I'm anthropomorphizing, but we watch the two baby loons learn to dive that week and I full on cried on the dock, cheering them on. They were so little, but so brave!) and caught frogs with my kiddo (he named his favourite frog "Manny Merman"), and my 16-month-old tried to launch herself off the dock every second of the day. Claire's love of the water truly astounds me – she is the happiest when she's in the water, splashing in the shallows, paddling off the dock. Swimming with her was so wonderful, and even Jack got on board and the highlight of my week was swimming with both of them in the lake at the same time. A family swim – it was actually a dream come true.

When I wasn't swimming, or reading, or frog catching, or trying to keep the baby from launching herself into the water, I was on the water. We went on our first family canoe ride with the four of us. It was great until we ran out of snacks and the baby's foot got tangled in a spider web. And I took a kayak out for a spin and I tried standup paddling boarding again. I tried it last year and didn't get what all the fuss was about, but I tried it again one afternoon when the lake was perfectly still and I needed to escape from the neverending frog catching/minnow hunting. It was so meditative, and I loved being on the surface, without being IN the water. It was like canoeing, but vertical. I loved the perch of it. I paddled all over the lake, along the far shoreline. It was one of my very favourite afternoons.

We lost power on our last day, and woke up to thick fog and still no power. So we packed the car without coffee and ran down to the dock for one final swim. The air was thick and grey and we couldn't even see across the lake, but we swam and arrived back to the city with hair still damp with lake water.

Jack has been talking about "The Summerary". It's unclear what he actually means, but he's described it as: "a swimming pool with a library, kind of like France, and a cottage. There are frogs, but no minnows" And so, this year's docktail is....THE SUMMERARY:

To make two perfect "Summerary" docktails:
2 spears of cucumber
juice from 1 lemon
2 oz Bombay Sapphire gin
1 oz Hendricks gin
mix with ice
top with tonic

Serve on the dock next to a family of loons while the kids nap. Best enjoyed on slightly damp towels, preceded by a leap in the lake.

  • Lindsay
  • Thursday, August 9, 2018

Goodbye, Guardian Swim, Hello ALL OF THE FEELINGS

I have been dreaming about the day when my kid goes to swimming lessons and I sit on the deck WITHOUT a suit on since his first Guardian swim class three years ago. Kerry wrote about her farewell to Guardian Swim a while back and it has been my touchstone for all those days bouncing around the shallow end making starfish and singing Ring Around the Rosy. I love swimming, (CLEARLY), but I hate Guardian Swim, a semi-free-for-all with barely-there instruction and teachers who insist you dunk your clearly petrified child under water or tell your 5-month-old to kick his legs (psssst, he doesn't know what his legs are...)

BUT, this week, it arrived. Solo swim classes. I brought a book. And no bathing suit. I was so excited.

And then my little guy walked onto the deck, looking so small against the backdrop of the pool. He followed his teacher, "Coach Brian" as he's known around here, into the shallow end. My first-born is hesitant around water (unlike my running-off-the-dock-at-any-given-chance second born), and to see him stand on the water table and blow bubbles, his small hands on his small hips, so clearly nervous and so clearly brave cracked me open.

Usually when we are swimming, our bodies are touching. I'm holding him under his arms, or he's balancing on my hip. We blow bubbles into each other's bubbles. We chase after toy zebras together, his legs kicking. It made my body ache, seeing the water up to his waist, blowing bubbles with an entire shallow end between us.

I was back in Parklawn Pool, and it was 1984 and I was standing on the table in the shallow end, desperate for my Yellow badge. I too was terrified, but also trying to be brave. I was him and I wasn't him at all.

I tried not to look so he wouldn't see my fear, or delight, I wasn't even sure what it was.

I opened my book and pretended to read, watching him out of the corner of my eye. I'd read a word, then glance up and he'd be kicking with a noodle. I'd read another word and glance up and he'd be giving Coach Brian a high five.

I've felt shades of this before, this heart-bursting, teary pride and clear distinction of him being his very own unique person in the world. It happened first when he ran into his classroom at daycare and was swept up in a hug by his caregiver, Yordanke, and again when he's played soccer with a skill I can't quite fathom and gone to birthday parties and fallen in with his pals with such ease and joy. But this was different. He looked so vulnerable in his little green whale trunks, his shoulder blades so tiny and delicate. This was so visceral.

I swam in the very same pool the day I gave birth to him, just hours before, though I had no idea then. I told him that on the way home. "Did I like Smarties when I was a baby?" was his response, eating his swimming bribe, I mean reward—one red and one orange Smartie.

I shook my head and tried not to cry.

He has swimming lessons again next week, and I will bring my book and try to read, but I know I will probably just stare at this beautiful, incredible body that once did flip turns inside me while I swam, flutter kicking against my ribs, and I will burst with pride and ache with nervousness, that line between us still a bit blurry.

One day this line won't be blurry and he will swim and I will read, but now that I've graduated from Guardian swim, I'm no longer in a hurry.

  • Lindsay
  • Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Bits and buoys and the best swimming summer since I was 8

There's still a solid month left, but I'm going to call it already: this is hands down the best swimming summer I've had since 1988. I've had such incredible swims in all sorts of different pools, and lakes, a veritable swimiraclea quarry even. My baby girl is ALL about swimming, my kiddo is on board and practices front crawl in his bed instead of sleeping. It is the best. Just the best. More on some spectacular swims I've had and places to jump in soon, but in the meantime, I'm celebrating the renaming of the Regent Park Aquatic Centre after the wonderful, generous local councillor who was a huge supporter of the centre. It's now the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre. Even typing that out makes me a bit weepy.

In other public pool news, I'm *still* thinking about Katrina Onstad's piece about public pools in the West End Phoenix: "A public pool on a summer day feels beautifully optimistic," she writes. "Today's pools feel inclusive, and provide a kind of informal social infrastructure."

What a beautiful homage to public pools – their imperfections and beauty and necessity.

This swimming article in the New Yorker by Carolyn Kormann made me want to swim every pool in Toronto in a day (though it'd definitely take more than a day...Toronto has 58 outdoor-run pools!)

"As I marked the locations of Manhattan’s pools on a map, a constellation emerged: the people’s moat, a secret waterway, a liquid realm. Among the honking taxis, flashing lights, and fretful pedestrians, I would swim." Read the whole article here!

And though I don't have any plans to head west any time soon (sob), if you do happen to be out near Edmonton, please swim at the Borden Park Natural Pool and let us know how it is!!!!

"It’s the first pool of its kind in Canada and only the second one in North America. It’s modelled on natural swimming pools that are popular in Germany and Austria. Instead of chemical disinfectants, dechlorinated water is cleansed and purified though a series of sand and gravel filters and by the natural interactions of plants, algae and zooplankton." M

HOW AMAZING IS THAT? You can read more about it here!

Last thing, because this swimmer needs to hang her suit up to dry: here's 49th Shelf's amazing #swimlit list. If you can't be in water, you might as well be reading about it, right?
  • Lindsay
  • Thursday, August 2, 2018

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