And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
For the last couple of weeks, my daughter Olivia accompanied me to the gym when I went in to swim. Bear in mind, I use the word swim loosely – I only recently took swimming lessons, and the 10-week program was interrupted after four weeks when my instructor, who was hugely pregnant, had her baby. The YMCA, which offered the lessons, couldn’t find anyone to fill in on the time slot that I needed, and so the lessons were discontinued. I was very disappointed, but felt I learned enough that I could join a gym with a pool and do enough that it would count as exercise (though I have to say, I did not join the Y).
Olivia is a natural swimmer. She started when she was in kindergarten and took to the water like the proverbial fish. She tried out for a swim team when she was in third grade, and the coach pronounced her exceptional. But the noise in the natatorium was just too much for her to handle. Even with earplugs, the constantly blowing whistles, the shouting coaches (shouting to be heard over the other shouting) and screeching kids sent her into a panic. We could only imagine what being at a meet would do, with bellowing parents added to the melee. So she didn’t join, but kept swimming. We talked about her joining a swim team when she got to high school. But when she learned the measure of commitment there, with early morning and after school practices, and meet after meet after meet, she worried about her academic performance and so she decided against it. Still, she swam whenever she could, and watching her body slice effortlessly through the water is a joy to behold.
As for me, well, I don’t slice. I chug. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to breathe while doing the front crawl or any stroke. On the side of the pool, when I practice the front crawl, my head moves the way it’s supposed to. But once in the water, my head takes on a life of its own and says, Nope, I’m looking down. I am not lifting to the side. Nope, nope, nope. And then, when I try, I get a mouthful of water. Bleah. So basically, I hold my breath as long as I can, then dog paddle with my head above water while I gasp, then plow my head in again and continue.
Hey, it works. It’s not pretty, but it works.
So these last few weeks, I’ve watched Olivia while I do my own thing. I walk forward in the water the length of the pool three times, then walk backwards three times, then dog paddle three times, do my version of the breast stroke three times, forward crawl six times, then reverse the order and finish with the walk. I did all this while I watched her head bobbing gently in the lane next to me. And I wished I could do what she does, all while admiring the grace and absolute beauty of my own daughter.
That wishing is sort of silly. She’s 21, I’m 61. She’s swum for practically her whole life, I’ve stuck with the dog paddle and flunked swim lesson after swim lesson. Though we do have one big thing in common: neither of us are scared of the water, and we both love it.
The last time we swam together, before she returned to college, she asked me about my goggles. We both bought some when we joined the gym, hers near her school, mine by me. This was my first pair of goggles. When I tried them in the pool, she was not with me. “I didn’t like them,” I said. “The water just came in and got stuck between my eyes and the goggle. It was like swimming in a fishbowl.”
She sighed, and at the pool, she tightened the goggles. And tightened the goggles. And tightened them again. When I put them on, they adhered to my face and I wondered if I would ever get them off.
But then I began to swim.
I could see! The world became aqua. Sound was gone. Even though I was in a pool with several other people, including my daughter, I was all alone and suspended and warm and surrounded with color and silence and my own movement. Following the blue line of tile on the floor of the pool was like following a chosen path. I felt at peace. My favorite place in the world is by water, and now I was not only in it, I was a part of it.
Until I had to breathe, of course.
And then I doggy paddled and breathed and admired my daughter before I plunged back in. There was beauty under the water, and there was beauty above the water.
While I will never swim like my daughter, I felt then that I’d joined into her world for a bit. I experienced what she did, even if it wasn’t for length after length of pool, but just for the time of a held breath.
And now, when she’s away from me and off at college and, eventually, off into her adult life, I will share her world then too.
It’s a lovely place.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.