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Month: July 2018

Swimming as easy as A,B,C

by Gaelle Fourcade
with Onica King

Mom-1: I heard “Swim Like A Fish” has a really good swim program.

Mom-2: Yeah, I’ve already registered Katie there.

Mom-3: Isn’t your Katie just 4 years old?

Mom-2: Yes, but there’s a waiting list and I want to make sure she gets a spot on a day we can be there. Your Jacob is turning 4 right, where are you thinking of registering for swim lessons?

Mom-3: Ahhh, um. . .

Sounds familiar?

I first discovered the importance of Dutch swim lessons for children just as I began asking around for information about schools for our eldest daughter. At first, I thought it was a bit early to start thinking about swim lessons, yet alone already registering my 4 year old for swim class. But ongoing conversations and the evident parental stress associated made it seem just as important as choosing a good school.

Out of my depth

You see I’m initially from France. There, schools still provide swim lessons to students. So of course, I had no idea what to look for and what to expect with respect to swim diplomas in the Netherlands.

Diploma A, B, C, badje 1-2-3, colored armbands, etc. I quickly became overloaded and confused with this new vocabulary on swim lessons. Oh, and of course, it‘s all in Dutch — a language I understood very little of at the time. It took me months before I understood ZWEM-ABC (literally SWIM-ABC) referenced the various diploma levels. Diploma A was the first swim diploma that included basic swimming techniques and specific swim distance requirements.  The progression to Diploma B adds more techniques and longer distances. C indicates the most advanced level of the diplomas in this category.

Letters, numbers, colors and more

After a bit of research and experience (we’ll soon be taking my 3rd through the process) I quickly became intimately acquainted with the mysteries of the ‘badjes’ A1 through A6, and its associated color armbands, red, blue, green, yellow orange and bronze. All beginners start in badje A1 with red armbands. As they begin to better coordinate their movements and master the required skills and techniques of each badje, children receive the ‘reward’ of a new colored armband — much to their pleasure and excitement — before progressing to the next badje.

All this culminates in their ability to swim at least 50 meters using both breast and back strokes and swim 3 meters underwater through a large ‘escape’ hole. Those requirements increase to 75 meters and 6 meters under water for the B certificate. The C diploma requires 100 meters of surface swimming with a few additional obstacles.

The NRZ (The National Board of Swimming Safety) publishes a list of requirements (in Dutch) for each diploma.

Time and money

When we decided to inscribe our daughter, we had no clue how long it would take to achieve completion of ZWEM-ABC. It took us almost 4 years!

Ok, we did not attend during summer holidays (which can be a really good way to speed up your diploma). Our daughter also had ear tubes, so she suffered intermittent ear infections. Either way, I shudder to calculate how much her diplomas cost in total. However, be prepared to invest some time and money. The swim school we attended suggests, “the average duration to obtain the A-diploma is 50 hours, for B- diplomas it’s 10-15 hours and for C-diploma it’s 12-15 hours.” DMM’s recent “Get Out!” blog lists the various swim schools in Delft. Check around to find out more about various types, times and costs of swim programs.

A tropical oasis

So every Thursday afternoon we gathered the swim gear, our daughter and her little brother to head to the swimming pool.

Now that’s some heat and humidity for you. It is literally like entering a sauna!

During the winter, you have to remember to dress in layers, and then proceed to unload yourself of those endless layers as you enter the tropical environment that is the swim school. Then in the summer, you observe the children with envy wishing you too were able to spring in the water to cool off just a bit.

Oh, and let us not forget the entire pre- and post-preparation and seating to contend with. Parents and children alike converge upon the changing room entrance 5 minutes before class time in anticipation. Once the green light flickers to ‘signal go’, everyone enters to help their little 4, 5 and 6 year olds change into their respective swim clothing. Should your session start as another ends (or vice-versa), that means there’ll be as many as 30 – 60 little swimmers and their parents — some like me with younger children in tow — trying to find a corner to maneuver.

Finally, after 5 minutes of rushing to get little arms and legs in and out of clothing, you emerge (more often than not, sweating) from the changing rooms in search of a place to sit and observe your budding swim aficionado, while in my case — also entertaining another toddler. Thank goodness for the well-positioned contained play areas on offer at most of Delft’s swim schools, provided specifically for the welcomed distraction of non-swimming little siblings.

Oh the pomp and circumstance

“Afzwemmen” another Dutch word one becomes well acquainted with in the journey towards ZWEM-ABC completion.  Once your child progresses through their respective swim lessons, they are then invited to ‘pass’ for their diploma. Time for them to demonstrate their newly acquired swim prowess before receiving each of their swim diplomas. It’s also time for fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings and the entire list of proud friends and family members to come together in a hot, humid swim school to celebrate the accomplishment (and let’s not forget freedom) of completing a swim diploma.

The whole event is actually a bit of a show. By the time your little swimmer gets cleared for afzwemmen, they have already passed everything necessary in the lessons. Afzwemmen just serves as a final step to acknowledge the investment made by all.

Respect 👊

To be honest, despite the sarcasm and slight inconvenience, I have been impressed by the way my children learned and mastered different swimming techniques at their individual pace. The instructors were nice, some very funny and popular. They always had a little time of “grappig” (fun and laughter) during the lesson, and they knew our kids well. I could always ask information about their level and their competencies.

I admire the kids being so strong and courageous for such an intensive hour, and I am so pleased that they learnt to swim in clothes, which in this country — maybe more than others — makes absolute sense!

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The Mother Lode – female writers and motherhood

by Amanda de Souza

Motherhood is contradictory. It simultaneously unites and divides between the haves and have-nots, between those who go to work and those who chose to stay at home, between the free-range, the tiger and the helicopter parents. But perhaps nothing divides and unifies more than when writers question the beatified view of motherhood as fulfillment of women’s role and its cherished place in society.

Writing motherhood

Writers have long used their life experiences in their novels. Good writers use those experiences to tackle topics explored with a mixture of intelligence and forthright argument. Yet those who seek to honestly document experiences of child rearing often run the risk of being controversial, or at the very least, provocative. This week’s blog explores the work of two such accomplished, provocative writers — set almost 50 years apart. Both cast a wry and cynical look at motherhood in all its wonder and horror. These are not childcare nor self-help manuals. These authors wrote to maintain their sanity or for financial reasons — often one and the same.

A Life’s WorkOn becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk

A dark memoir and a relentless lament of the author’s early experiences with mothering.  Its compulsive reading with a familiar cast of characters (mother, father, baby, doctor, health visitor, a few friends) and plot (pregnancy, birth, colic, sleepless nights). As with the first few months of a baby’s life, the time scheme in the book is unchronological, as if to convey the disorientation of early motherhood. Rachel feels like an exhausted prisoner and even questions sadly whether her daughter likes her at all. What makes it so compelling is her masterful prose and the bravery that others will find some solace in her experiences.

Life Among the Savages and its sequel Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson

Both written around the late 1950’s, Shirley Jackson’s books seem very modern and relevant today.  Primarily known for her macabre “horror” fiction, these novels about her family life — originally serialized in magazines — portray a more human side of her writing. These books established Shirley as an unlikely predecessor of today’s “mommy bloggers.” She removed the traditional sugar coating around motherhood. Her writing serves as an intelligent and insightful chronicle of perennial issues on raising children, while questioning if every woman belongs in a traditional role.

Breeding power

Somewhat antithetical, motherhood has the ability to both empower and disenfranchise women.  All too often, the initial  respect and responsibility women experience nurturing young lives becomes diminished by reduced income and influence when they switch to part time employment, chose to work from home, or eschew paid employment completely in favor of child rearing.

Rachel Cusk’s and Shirley Jackson’s writings shine a spotlight on that dual aspect of motherhood, and calls for new inclusive definitions of power. Definitions that recognize both the joy and sacrifices required to perform that “mother of all jobs”.

Women and Power by Mary Beard

Mary Beard’s manifesto  timely in the light of the #MeToo movement — reinforces that need for change and inclusivity in the language and definition of power. It proposes, instead of appropriating male definitions, women break societally imposed silence and create their own language and means of wielding power in order to effect a semblance of modern equality.

One aspect of a changing definition of power is the power of individuality. The acceptance of differing views on long cherished ideals about women and motherhood. The acceptance that we as women do not all fit into one mould and knowing that WE are not alone.

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