Lessons on Swimming

I didn’t learn to swim properly until I was a young adult, and even then it was because swimming felt like something to conquer.

As a child who grew up along the Potomac River, you’d think I would have learned to swim earlier. Our family owned a boat and we spent days joy-riding with my father at the helm.  Dad taught us to fish and to scoop up crabs from the pilings along the wharf. He taught me to doggie paddle as this was all he could do as well.

Like all good mothers, mine signed me up for swimming lessons in the one pool in our small town. The pool was a part of the Colonial Beach Hotel and Mr. Willett taught swimming lessons. There was nothing unkind about Mr. Willett, nothing threatening or mean-spirited. Still, the lessons were, from the very beginning, frightening for me. We bobbed up and down, in and out of the water, learning to blow bubbles, trying to breathe rhythmically. Once in a while the boys would play around, taking turns dunking each other beneath the water’s surface. I watched the submerged boy struggle and I was horrified. Released, he would spring to the air, gulping and then laughing, exhilarated by the freedom of a single breath of air.

I tried. I really did. I stuck with the lessons even as anxiety threatened to drown me. To complete the course, we had to jump from the diving board and swim to the side of the pool. I was not afraid of the height, or even the jump. I was afraid I would not make it to the side of the pool. My fear was rooted in the power of the water itself.

It was my husband who re-introduced me to swimming as a newlywed. He patiently supported me in a pool and helped me learn the strokes. With him holding on to me, I relaxed and swimming came more easily.

Then there were years of taking my children to the community pool where my job was to keep a watchful eye; and more years to follow where I felt too fat for a bathing suit and too self-conscious to have fun.

Now there are no more excuses. I want to glide through the water and swim till I am exhausted. To come home with warmed-by-the-sun skin and muscles spent to the cool darkness of the house, where I will sit on the sofa and eat tuna fish sandwiches and chips and watch an old episode of Andy Griffith on television.

Because it is summer, and I am finally a kid.