Big Arms

Swim Lessons with Wyatt, age 7

Wyatt is by far the weakest swimmer in the group and the coach has them all swimming lengths in the largest pool he’s ever been in. The other kids are doing the crawl, but Wyatt says he swims “like a dolphin”, which means mostly wriggling along completely under the water, with progressively more frequent and lengthy “breathing breaks” as he fatigues.  During these breaks, he leans his head far back in the water, goggled eyes to the sky, dog-paddling and huffing and puffing along.  The other kids in his lesson finish their lap before he’s even halfway there; they bob around, adjusting their goggles, doing handstands, and turning somersaults, waiting for Wyatt and for the next instruction.  Just as Wyatt arrives, they are sent swimming back to the other side.

“Not again!” Wyatt groans, gripping the end wall with two hands.

“Come on, Wyatt, you can do it,” says the teenaged coach.

Wyatt lifts his goggles and eyes the far end of the pool with contempt.  The other children are a quarter of the way there.

“Come on, Wyatt, you just have to swim one more lap and then you can go jump off the diving board!”

Fine,” Wyatt says.

“But Wyatt, this time I want you to swim freestyle.”

Wyatt does not acknowledge the last part of the instruction.  Instead, he dolphins over to the sidewall and begins inching his way along it toward the deep end.

“Freestyle, Wyatt,” reminds the instructor, standing in the middle of the shallow end.

“I know!” Wyatt says, picking up speed, but continuing moving along the wall.

The instructor waits for him to let go of the wall and start swimming.  Instead, Wyatt starts moving hand-over-hand and using his foot to push himself faster along the wall.

“Okay, Wyatt, let’s see your freestyle now!”

Wyatt says nothing but continues moving along the wall.  The instructor shifts his gaze between Wyatt and the rest of the group, which is fast approaching the far wall.  He dunks his head under water and then strokes smoothly over to Wyatt.

“Wyatt,” he asks, patiently, “can you just try swimming a little freestyle?”

“I am!” Wyatt insists without stopping.

The instructor doesn’t seem certain how to proceed. He glances up at me, standing on the sideline with Milo on my hip.

“Wyatt,” I call, “Big Arms!”

“What, Mommy?  What did you say?”

“Big Arms, honey.  He wants you to swim with Big Arms.”

“Did you say ‘Big Arms’?”


“’Freestyle’ means ‘Big Arms’?

“Yes!” the instructor and I both say.

“Hmpf,” Wyatt grumbles.  “Well then why did they give it a name that sounds like doing whatever you want?”

2 thoughts on “Big Arms

  1. tom

    we are the most engaging when we are the most vulnerable, as Wyatt is in his swimming and as I was too, which is probably why I can relate so strongly to this one


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