I don’t know what possessed me to take The Toddler (TT) swimming alone. I’ve been putting it off for a lifetime (his). It’s not just the thought of wedging my flabby carcass into a pre-pregnancy bikini and putting it on display for all to titter at. TT is heavy, wriggly and has almost no concern for his own safety. I feel like I’m just asking for trouble. Worse, he has form for filling his nappy at the worst possible moment. If anyone is going to poop in a pool, it’ll be him. I blush just thinking about it.
But taking my child swimming feels like something a good mum would do. They say you should fake it til you make it, so I pack our bags and we head out to the glamorous environs of Sidcup Leisure Centre.
My first challenge is to wrestle my aforementioned wobbly self into my swimsuit while simultaneously preventing a small person with a death wish from leaping headfirst from the changing room bench. I do what all incompetent parents do when faced with a tricky situation such as this. I feed him a banana. This gives me vital seconds to change and stuff my clothes into a bag. Now to inflate the toddler seat.
The seat looked so small and innocuous in the box. But when I unfold it I find it’s the size of a small life raft. DO NOT OVERINFLATE it warns me in bossy capitals. There is not much chance of that. Within seconds I am wheezing and puffing and could fill the pool with my own sweat. The seat remains determinedly saggy. TT is emptying my handbag onto the floor. Should have brought more bananas.
With one foot, I restrain TT. I take a deep breath and blow into the valve again. I stop for a break. So this is why they keep telling me to do those pelvic floor exercises. I start again. TT is now licking the sole of my trainer.
It’s done. No, wait. There are three more sections to this thing. I open the next valve and blow in. I’m getting a stitch. TT is chewing on an old plaster he’s found on the floor. I’m feeling light headed. I could murder a banana.
I try again. The valves seem too big for my mouth and make comedy farting noises as I blow in. TT has exhausted the playthings in my handbag and starts to wail. I thrash and wrestle with the monstrous inflatable. I’m not winning this battle. There’s a knock on the door.
“Are you alright in there?”
“Yes…fine…blowing…” I pant. Please don’t call social services. We haven’t even got near the pool yet.
That will have to do. I wrestle a thrashing TT into his swim nappy. I’m not quite sure how swim nappies work. It looks frighteningly flimsy. I try not to think about it too much. He is red in the face and screaming by now. Wasn’t swimming supposed to be fun?
I gather my possessions from where TT has scattered them on the floor, grab the apoplectic child, the bags and the life raft and make for the door.
Have you ever been on a plane and actually listened to the safety announcements? Because I now know why you’re not supposed to inflate your lifejacket before you leave the plane. It’s like trying to squeeze a bouncy castle through a cat flap.
With much squeaking and squeezing, we explode out into the changing rooms, stash our bags in a locker and make it to the pool. I really could do with a drink now, but no, we have to swim.
The pool is awash with pert, well-inflated mums with adorable children in pert, well-inflated toddler seats. Their perfectly-glossed mouths fall open in horror as I, a sweaty, harassed whale with a muffin top that puts you in mind of James Corden in a speedo, wade into the pool.
Their children are all beautifully behaved. TT lowers the tone by sticking his finger up his nose. He gurgles blissfully as he floats by. He is perilously low in the water, the semi-inflated excuse-for-a-flotation-device droops under his weight.
But, neither of us poop in the pool and we make it out in one piece. The toddler seat now stubbornly refuses to be deflated so I cram it in the boot as it is. When I get home I stab it with the kitchen scissors. Next time, Dad’s taking him swimming.