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One-Star Swimming

By January Gordon Ornellas

Our whole family is big on reviews. My daughter Quincey doesn’t so much as buy a toothbrush without making sure it has five stars. My husband, Steve, doesn’t frequent a restaurant unless it’s Yelp approved.

I, on the other hand, rely on my gut.

While researching a swim instructor for my 10-month-old granddaughter, Holland, my gut told me to hire Sandy, a swim instructor I found on a Mom’s website.

Sandy had over 20 years of experience and came highly recommended.

She was recommended by herself, but still, I admired her confidence.

Sandy arrived for our lesson 10 minutes early.

I introduced Sandy to my husband, Steve, and my son-in-law, Colby, who were both attempting to squeeze a squirming Holland into her swimsuit.

My husband handed Holland to Sandy, who smiled and babbled in Sandy’s arms.

“We’re going to have so much fun in the water,” Sandy told Holland as we all headed outside.

Punctual AND Pleasant.

Who needs reviews when you have spot-on instincts, like me?

Sandy slowly made her way into the pool, placing Holland on the beach entrance, next to the steps. Holland splashed in the shallow water.

Steve gave me a smile that said, You were right, Sandy is the best!

I know.

Sandy turned to us. “I have the greatest pool toy.”

We smiled.

“It’s so much fun,” she added.

We nodded.

“Babies absolutely love it,” she said, staring off into space.

We followed her gaze.

Sandy sighed. “...But I forgot it.”

Well, that’s disappointing.

Sandy lifted Holland off the steps. “Which way is the shallow end?” she asked.

Nobody answered. 

I think we were all thinking about that toy.

I know I was.

Finally, Steve pointed. “Towards the slide.”

Sandy nodded and went the opposite direction.

One minute, Sandy was happily bouncing Holland in her arms.

The next moment, Sandy was treading water in the deep end, barely keeping her head above water, her eyes wide with fear. 

“We’re fine,” she gurgled, holding Holland above her head like the Stanley Cup.

Steve raced to the edge of the pool, grabbed a flailing arm and pulled the two of them back to safety.

Sandy coughed up chlorine.

Did we need a swim instructor for our swim instructor?

Back in the shallow end, Sandy gasped, “Oops, guess I went the wrong way.”

Steve shot me a look. 

Where did you find this lady?

I patted his shoulder. 

Trust me. Sandy’s the best...okay.

Meanwhile, Sandy headed back down the steps. “How about we try going underwater?” she asked Holland. Then she turned to us. “It’s very soothing, like being in the womb. Babies love it.”


I can’t speak for all babies, but this baby did most certainly NOT love it.

After that, it wasn’t so much a swim lesson as it was grief counseling.

“I think she’s had enough for today,” Steve said, as he wrapped Holland in a towel.

Sandy sat on the edge of the steps. “Next week, I’ll bring the toy,” she smiled. “She’s really going to love it.”

I was torn.

I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be inviting Sandy back, but dammit, I’d love to see that toy.

Sandy climbed out of the pool, and then stood, dripping on the cement. “I forgot a towel,” she confessed.

We all looked at one another.

Who was this toy-less, towel-less wonder?

Steve, who was standing next to Colby, handed her a towel.

Sandy toweled off and then giving Steve and Colby a big smile, asked, “So have the two of you had Holland since birth?”

There was a very long, very awkward pause as we all registered what she was asking.

I don’t care how progressive you are, no father-in-law and son-in-law want to be mistaken for life partners.

Let’s just say Holland wasn’t the only one traumatized that day.

We spent the next few minutes explaining to Sandy who went with who(m).

Sandy just smiled and nodded. 

Then taking her (our) towel, she waved goodbye and that was the last we saw of Sandy.

Steve, Colby and Holland all gave me the same look.

I nodded.

I know. 

Reviews are important. — January Gordon Ornellas

January Gordon Ornellas is a comedy writer whose stories include everything from colonoscopies to triathlons (equally torturous). Her article, “Rookie’s Triathlon Lessons,” appeared in the LA Times (June 2019). Two of her other stories, “Gobble, Gobble” and “Almost Taken,” were recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Laughter is the Best Medicine (April 2020). She is currently working on a book, Confessions of a Crazy Softball Mom. January also enjoys writing for her blog (, traveling and spending time with her husband and two adult daughters.

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