It was a good thing I was about to pass out from the humidity of the pool room. At least then I could validate burying my head in my hands, slumped on the side of a chair in despair. The day was Tuesday, the time was 4.30, and the activity was swimming: The bane of our existence.
Whilst my 6-year-old embarked on his routine melody of antics, demanding he’s not putting his head in the water, he’s won’t let go of the edge and he will not under any circumstance imitate a fish blowing bubbles in the water, it dawned upon on me: We ARE that nerdy frum (religious) family. I started having traumatic flashbacks to days gone by when I was a teenager in the sunny suburbs of Sydney. Back then a group of young Chabad guys would come to our school to teach Jewish topics during lunch break. The fact that I was keeping Shabbos was still hush hush and as they would walk past us sun baking and eating our calorie free ice cubes, the contrast resembled a fish out of water, no pun intended. In those moments of uneasiness, my adolescent self took a vow to ensure no matter where life took me I would remain cool in the eyes of all those around me.
Fast forward a decade and here I was, failing miserably. Aside from my sheitel slowly forming into dreadlocks from the less than apt climate of the pool, my kids were the only ones not following the ropes, advancing through the classes and learning to bloody well swim. My 2-year-old Sydney based nephew was probably spinning laps in his private pool by now, whilst my duo was not only negating everything the instructor had in mind, but making quite a scene of it too. Desperate thoughts started racing through my head as I tried to pinpoint where it had all gone wrong. Enroll kids in swimming classes. Take kids to said swimming classes. Kids will in-turn learn to swim. Wrong. Then started the texts to my husband (who grew up in a religious family).
“This is pathetic.”
“When I was their age I was almost in the Olympics.”
“All we do is feed them kugel and cholent.”
“Frum kids are just not disciplined.”
“I am actually embarrassed, you’re going to have to leave work and save me.”
He did not leave work and I was not saved. The lesson ended and we all returned home grim from the day’s events, void of stickers that mommy did not feel were well earned. As we gruffly unloaded the car, the crew was unusually quiet having sensed my disappointment. Once in the house Shaya turned to me and asked: “Mommy, after you take off your sheitel do you mind please printing me a coloring sheet?”
It was a small gesture but my gosh did it come at the right time. As my three-year-old volcano of a girl, rushed over to the baby to calm her down while I got comfy, something my kids have come to know as ritual when we come home, I realized what I really should be feeling is pride.
Sure, I can enroll them in numerous courses and extra-curricular activities, but what our way of life really allows kids to excel in, is virtues. Shabbos morning walks to synagogue, late nights reading stories of righteous Tzaddikim, schools which are built around nurturing good values in the future generation, long afternoons spent home with all the kids because it’s virtually impossible to schlepp each one to their chosen sport at an elite level. These are the moments where they really learn and grow. Appreciating one’s elders, Respecting your parents, loving another as yourself, these are the activities I wish for my kids to reach gold level Olympic status in, spread to others and …to one day be able to swim as well.