And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I am most at home near water, whether it’s a river, lake, or ocean, or even a swimming pool, and I’m happy in the water as well. But I’ve never learned how to swim. I’ve certainly tried; I had swimming lessons as a little girl, and when I attended three different high schools, I had swimming class in each. I jumped into pools willingly. But I never came out with a knowledge of how to make myself swim.

When I was in early elementary school, my mother signed me up for several weeks of swimming class. A school bus met students at the junior/senior high school and we were driven to Big Lake. I was so excited. I had a swimming suit I loved. It was a one-piece, mostly blue, with a red and white striped yoke between the two tank top straps, and a blue anchor was set right in the middle of my chest. There was a red and white striped rope belt around my waist. I felt very nautical. My teacher was probably a high school student or college student; he seemed very adult to me at the time, and also really, really cute. I called him Sir Knight. I learned to dog-paddle quickly, and float on my stomach. The back float, though, was impossible. I freaked out as soon as he had me lean back in the water. He also had all of us kneel on one leg on the edge of the pier, duck our heads and point our hands like rocket ships, and try to roll into the water. I began to roll, but then pushed off the dock and jumped in. He said I’d learn. I believed him.

Then I caught a cold and I was out the rest of that week and into the next. When I returned, it was the final day of class. My class going off the diving board. I’d missed that lesson. I watched them do the roll-in motion off the end of a wobbling board into deep lake water where I’d never been. Then I turned, got my card where I signed in and signed out, and I handed it to Sir Knight. “I can’t do it,” I said. “Oh, Kathie,” he said. I turned and ran and hid on the bus until it was time to go home. I didn’t pass.

My family visited Misquamicut State Beach in Rhode Island that summer. Still wearing that same suit, I charged into the waves. Then I moved up and down the shoreline, basically dragging myself with my arms. “I’m swimming!” I yelled. “I’m swimming!”

Well, no. But I sure wanted to.

Then came the string of high schools and their swimming units in gym. In each school, you had to pass a skill before moving on to the next one. I made it to the back float in each school, then went into a panic attack whenever the instructors tried to get me on my back. I just could not handle that feeling of water trickling into my ears. I was held back every time while the rest of my class went ahead. And every time, I climbed out of the pool at the end of the session without a passing grade.

It was so frustrating. I wanted to swim.

As an adult, I sought out swimming pools, lakes, and of course, the ocean. During pregnancies, I took exercise classes in the pools and I loved the buoyancy. With my last pregnancy, with Olivia, I went into the Y during free swim and dog-paddled, floated, and walked the swimming lanes.

She was born in love with the water. I watched her do the crawl, the breaststroke, the side stroke, the backstroke, and I so wished I could do it too.

I tore the meniscus in my left knee a few months ago, and as I recuperated, I can’t tell you how many people told me that swimming would be a better exercise. I sighed and looked away. But then I looked at my computer screen instead. I went to the Y’s website and found one on one swimming lessons. I didn’t want to take a class. I was too afraid of being held back yet again, while the rest of my class moved forward. I wrote the swim director a note. “I want to take lessons,” I said, “but I do not want anything to do with floating or swimming on my back. It makes me panic. Can you teach me anyway?”

He said yes. He said of course.

In my very first lesson, my teacher showed me the front crawl! And I did it! I was swimming, not just dragging myself with my arms! I felt those arms rotate, my hands slice into the water, my feet kick, and my face lifting out to suck in some precious air before plunging back in.

I was swimming.

I don’t have a blue swimming suit with an anchor on it anymore. But that little girl who was so excited to get on that school bus to Big Lake is back. And she’s not saying, “I can’t do it,” anymore. I can. And even more important, I have teachers who are listening to me. Who hear me.

I can do it.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

At Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island. “I’m swimming! I’m swimming!”
Just out of the pool at the Y after my first lesson. I’m swimming!

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