Swimming success

At age 4 Cayden has proven he can fight gravity’s pull in the pool. The Boy is learning to swim.

Which astonishes me since my best stroke — my only stroke — is the dog paddle.

“What is that?” Martin asked, the first time he saw me in the water.

“What’s what?”

“That thing you’re doing.”

“What, swimming?”

“No sane person would call that swimming.”

It’s true, my technique is not very fluid. I sort of tread water and inch across the pool in a herky-jerky fashion. Like a maimed frog.

It’s not your fault, Mom told me years ago. My mom grew up in California, a land dotted with chlorinated blue backyards. So she’s proficient in the pool. But my dad was born in Hungary. “So you’re half Hungarian,” she said. “And Hungarians are lousy swimmers. What do you expect? They live in a land-locked country.”

When I was a little kid, my California grandmother would place a few quarters on the bottom stair of the pool, to tempt me to put my face in the water. “If you can get those quarters, you can keep them,” she’d say.

I’d pick up the quarters with my toes.

Based on my sad swimming state, I’d written off the Boy and Barbarian.

But I forgot that Martin was born with gills. He swam competitively by age 6 and life-guarded at 14.

He looked at me like I was crazy — crazier then usual — when I explained the Hungarian curse.

Don’t sweat it, he said. The kids will swim.

And he was right. Last week, with a little encouragement from Martin, Cayden shed his swim vest, plunged his head beneath the water and kicked his legs. And started swimming.

Since then he’s been unstoppable. We bought him some goggles and now he holds his breath and shoots under water like a little minnow. He’s even able to retrieve sunken toys from the bottom of the pool.

And, he picks them up with his hands, not his toes.