Kazem was the first person in his family to study in America. And yet his proudest achievement is to be the family swim instructor. Years ago, Kazem decided that all of his children would learn to swim, even though this wasn’t normal in Iran. To this day, Kazem loves telling stories about teaching his children, nephews, and nieces to swim.
Kazem treats swim lessons very seriously, but his seriousness is both funny and endearing. Learning to swim could be considered a symbol of adjusting to American society—so it makes sense that Kazem, a lover of America, takes the lessons so seriously.
Firoozeh recalls that she was her father’s one great failure as a swim instructor. Kazem used a logical, methodical approach to teaching swimming. While this approach worked well for many of Kazem’s nephews and nieces, it didn’t work for Firoozeh, who isn’t particularly scientifically minded. After many summers’ worth of lessons, Firoozeh concluded that she’d never learn how to swim. Kazem was irritated, and muttered, “She’s built like a rock.”
No matter how much time Kazem spends trying to teach Firoozeh, she doesn’t learn. Considering the rest of the chapter, it’s possible that the more time Kazem spends teaching her, the less likely she is to learn, since she doesn’t do well with her family’s constant pressuring.
When Firoozeh is eight years old, the family travels to Switzerland to visit Firoozeh’s Aunt Parvine. Parvine is a successful doctor—a rarity for Iranian women of that generation. In Switzerland, Parvine tells Kazem that she’ll to teach Firoozeh to swim. She takes Firoozeh to the deep end of the pool and pushes her in. Instead of swimming, Firoozeh sinks to the bottom of the pool. Parvine jumps into the water and pulls Firoozeh to the surface. She concludes, “Firoozeh is a rock.”
Aunt Parvine is an important role model for Firoozeh—she’s an Iranian woman who goes on to have a successful career, even though Iranian women of her generation are generally expected to get married and have children. The fact that Parvine pursues her medical career in Switzerland could suggest that Iran isn’t conducive to women having careers (although it could also suggest that Iranian culture isn’t as opposed to women becoming professionals and traveling the world as Firoozeh repeatedly implies).
The next summer, Firoozeh and her family go on vacation to the Caspian Sea. On her first day at the beach, Firoozeh begins to swim, “Simple as that.” She later tells Kazem that she’s begun to swim. Kazem replies, “You are an odd child,” and Firoozeh says, “No, there was nobody yelling at me in the sea.” Firoozeh still remembers the “first gentle wave” on the day that she learned to swim.
Firoozeh learns to swim, she claims, because she isn’t under any pressure from her family to do so—instead of overthinking things, she swims, “simple as that.” The episode could symbolize Firoozeh’s gradual coming of age, and the way she eventually becomes her own person instead of simply doing what her family tells her or expects her to do.