Saturday, July 2, 2011

Discrimination Against Small and Youthful-Looking People

As a part of participation in an aquatic program at my high school, members of the swimming, diving, and water polo teams must agree to participate in Red Cross lifeguard courses and in Red Cross Water Safety Instruction courses. My diving coach explained it to me as a way for the aquatic department to give back to the community. Our practices always require sufficient adult supervision with water-safety-qualified individuals that it really wasn't a necessary feature to ensure safety in our practices. The department felt that the skills taught in the courses and the certification offered were of benefit to us as individuals and to any community in which we eventually settled. (I suspect that, in the age of budget cuts and of many sports falling under the axe as a result,this was one way of keeping aquatic programs off the chopping block.) Regardless of the motivation, it was a noble and worthy pursuit. Our coaches were qualified to provide the instruction for the courses, and our team boosters raised money for the books and fees that were required.

I completed the required courses. The prerequisites alone were rigorous and rather daunting for me considering my initial level of swimming skills, involving swimming long distances using both standard swimming strokes in addition to swimming considerable distances underwater. The tests required to pass the training included lugging heavy weights from the bottom of the pool and pulliindividuals more than twice my size out of the water while they struggled to escape my rescue effort or to pull me underwater with them. Many of these tasks were more difficult for me than for many members of the class because I was and am, aquatically speaking, a diver as opposed to a swimmer. Many divers morph from swimming to diving once they realize that diving is in many ways more glamorous except for the 5:00 a.m. practices. Some continue to swim even after they take up diving. While I knew the rudiments of swimming, having been taught the basics at a young age, I had never swum competitively. Furthermore, my low body fat content made and continues to make floating a near-impossibility (if I hold enough air in my stomach, I can meet the minumum requirement for floating), and treading water, while doable, is more difficult for me
with my natural lack of bouyancy. I lack the build of a natural swimmer.

It was my experience as a gymnast, not as a swimmer, that led to my becoming a diver. Nonetheless, I persevered and mastered all of the necessary skills to become both a Red Cross-certified lifeguard and a Red Cross-certified Water Safety Instructor, or swimming teacher. Fifteen is the minimum age for certification as a lifeguard, so I completed that course and was certified my junior year of high school. The minimim age for the Water Safety Instruction certification is sixteen at the completion of the course, so I did not complete that aspect of my training until this past school year. On paper at least, I am qualified to teach every Red Cross swimming course through Advanced Lifesaving, formerly known as Senior Lifesaving. Mouth-to-mouth recessitation, CPR, and basic life-preserving techniques are taught to participants with the caveat that the single best way to save a life is to prevent it from ever becoming endangered in the first place while on your watch. No amount of skill at life-saving techniques supercedes vigilance. I took all aaspects of instruction in these courses very seriously, and thoroughly mastered the curriculum. Though I've never hired myself out as a lifegaurd, anytime I'm near a pool, I maintain a watchful eye even when I have no responsibility
to do so. Red Cross training teaches its students that they are always to be on guard around water whether they have been hired to supervise or charged with supervising or not. While my lifeguarding experience is
limited, I count myself among the more diligent lifesavers ever to have taken the courses.

On Thursday, my parents went with several other singles and couples to watch a movie. One couple, the parents of a three-year-old girl, left me to babysit her. I was given permission to take her to the hotel pool to swim. I took with me, in plastic waterproof covering, my ID and my
Lifesaving, Water Safety Instruction, and CPR/Advanced First Aid cards. I sensed that, because of my youthful appearance, someone on the hotel staff might take issue with my swimming without the presence of my parents or my ability to supervise Leah in the water. In addition to her own personal lifeguard, Leah had the benefit of plastic inflatable floaties on her arms. I did initially take the floaties off Leah to demonstrate to her
that it was the inflatable floaties and not any skill or super-powers on her part that kept her afloat. (My parents did the same to me and to my brother when we were tiny and learning to swim, because they did not wish for us to develop disporportionate confidence in our own abilities, and instead wished for us to have a healthy respect for the potential dangers of water.) I then put the floaties back on Leah and allowed her to enjoy the heated pool, careful to keep her within my reach at all times.

Less than ten minutes after entering the water, I was approached by a hotel employee, who asked me to immediately exit the pool and to take Leah out with me. I did as I was told, but went immediately to my ID and certifications so that I could show him I was qualified to supervise myself and the child in the pool. The hotel employee was not impressed in the least with my credentials. He refused my request to speak with his supervisor or to appeal in any way to a higher authority. I have been raised to respect adult authority, even quasi-authority, to the extent
that my body is not being violated. In this instance, there was no threat to the sanctity or well-being of my body. I wrapped Leah in her towel and carried her as she cried loudly all the way back to her hotel room. I tried my best to pacify her with other games and activities, but she was beyond consolation. I would have liked to have taken her to a park a little more than a block away, but I did not have permission to take her there, and I'm careful not to exceed limits when I'm babysitting. Besides, the two of us were potentially at a much greater risk of harm in a public park, with child predators and all manner of perverts supposedly lurking around every corner, than we could possibly have been in the pool.

When the adults returend to the movie, I didn't even get a chance to explain about the swimming fiasco to Leah's parents or to mine. Leah loudly and tearfully told her side of the story, blaming me as well as the hotel employee for her very short time in the water. The immediate result was that Leah's parents paid me twice the going rate for my having to listen to Leah's whining and crying for most of the time her parents were gone. My parents had asked me not to accept money from Leah's parents, as Leah's father is just beginning his medical residency, and the couple is far from having enough disposable cash to roll around in it and toss it up into the air as though it is confetti. Leah's parents insisted I take the money, though. I didn't feel too sorry for them; Leah's father is PseudoAunt Jillian's brother, and, as such, is being subsidized by the same wealthy parents as Scott and Jillian are. Leah also had a bried timeout when her parents returned. her mom told her that if the babysitter says it is time to get out of the pool for whatever reason, Leah nneds to do so without carrying on for hours. A few moments of disappointment may have been acceptable, but hours of crying and whining were not. Her mom told her she'd get spanked when her parents got home if she behaved that way again with a babysitter.

Leah's father took me, along with my certifications, to discuss the situation with the on-shift manager. She, however, was in the midst of dealing with a mixup in which one couple had been erroneously assigned to a room already inhabited by another couple. The first couple unlcoked the door and walked in on the second couple engaged in a particularly intimate moment. (Have these people not heard of deadbolts?) First things first, in any event. The total dissing of my high qualifications to swim unobserved by an adult and to supervise a young child in the water would need to take a backseat momentarily until the matter of coitus interruptus had been resolved.

That moment came this morning, when my father took me, along with my ID and water certifications, to meet with the on-duty hotel manager. My dad wore his white lab coat over a suit jacket, complete with pins identifying him as an MD with privileges at mutiple hospitals in the area, in order to give himself the benefit of the maximum importance effect. The hotel manager was suitably impressed both with my father's improtance and with my credientials, although in modesty I must say that had my father not appeared so important, my credentials might not have been taken quite so seriously on their own merits. The manager photographed me and immediately printed an enlargement of my mugshot, which was displayed prominently on the employee bulletin board. The manager talked about the hazards of swimming alone for anyone, but especially for someone who appaeared as small and vulnerable as I. My dad explained that I had been taught not to swim when there was either no one or just one or two males with which I was unacquainted in the vicinity, but with a bar and cabana immediately overlooking the pool, the was almost a moot point from 11:00 a.m. until dark. The hotel manager agreed.

This was just one small step for man, and one even smaller step for growth delayed individuals with water safety certifications. Leah is no longer in the immediate area, but if she comes back before my parents have vacated the hotel, I will at least be able to take her swimming.


  1. "The total dissing of my high qualifications to swim unobserved by an adult and to supervise a young child in the water would need to take a backseat momentarily until the matter of coitus interruptus had been resolved."
    Loved that line so much. I looked much younger then I was for years. During this time, I worked for a group home for small girls, where I was mistaken for a client as opposed to a staff numerous times. Once the AC repair man asked if my parents were home. It was very annoying at the time, but age has caught up, and it is no longer an issue. You handled it very well.

  2. And I bet he felt SO important, ignoring your qualifications. The dolt!