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A Poolful of Guppies and Wails

Marjean Tinoco sends them into the water crying--but they come out swimmers

August 18, 2002|LISA LEFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Because polio was thought to be a waterborne disease, however, Marjean, who lived in a small town in Oregon, wasn't allowed to swim until she was 15. Her first instructor, a handsome man seven years her senior, told her she would never be much of a swimmer because she lacked coordination. To prove him wrong, she set out to earn her Red Cross certification and within a year was giving lessons herself. At 18, she married her former instructor, and they opened their first swimming school.

Days Spent in the Water

She has spent her days standing in 3 1/2 feet of water ever since. "The day my youngest son was born I taught 12 hours, and four days later I taught 12 hours with him in the water right with me," she says. These days, she occasionally thinks about retiring but says she hasn't yet found a successor who is as comfortable working with babies and toddlers as she is. "To stay in the water as long as I do you would think I was nuts, but I love it so much, I don't want to get out," she says.

As it turned out, Marjean's predictions about the trajectory of her students' progress--from unwilling captives to happy splashers--proved mostly correct. By her third day, Carina walked into the pool without a backward glance and sat on the steps patiently playing with some plastic pool toys. "She's like a different kid," the girl's mother said with obvious relief. A short distance away, a 6-year-old boy who had been among the most vociferous of Monday's screamers still looked scared but contentedly yielded to the teacher's embrace.

There was one holdout, however, a 3-year-old girl who sobbed when she was on the pool's edge, sobbed when she was on Marjean's back, sobbed when she was playing on the steps with another girl. Marjean shrugged and pulled her close. "Your turn, phony baloney," she said, sending her off to another instructor and catching her on the return trip. "You did it! Yeah! Give me a kiss?" The girl complied, and then--still sobbing--scanned the pool area for her mother. "Mommy, did you see me?" she called. "Can I get out now?"

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