jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

Learning to Swim

I started swimming again, and it’s been a revelation.

Two young girls wearing yellow bathing suits float in a pool.

My sister and I in the pool
c. 1977

I grew up with a pool in the backyard. I have memories of swimming with my sisters at night while my father watched us. Because of that pool and a host of other reasons I never had official swim lessons. I never went out to swim and people never came in. But now that we live in a world of beaches and kayaks and paddle boards, oh my, I’ve taken each of my children to swim lessons.

Between busy days and the foot that won’t let me run, I’ve decided to start swimming again, too. In college I dated a boy who was on the varsity swim team. Watching the beautiful swimmers race nimbly through the pool week after week led me to understand that I was not a graceful swimmer.

And so I have not swum in front of people except the odd capsize from the paddle board, to hold babies during mommy and me classes or to assist in some ocean mishap caused by my kids, like a pair of Crocs carried away by the tide.

Last year during the very last week of school I went to the beach with a few mother friends and their children. The coolest boy in the bunch, the older boy my son looks up to, had a beach ball signed on the last day of school by all his friends. I watched as my son proudly held the shared ball over his head while striding through deep water trying to keep up with the boy.

In a gust of wind the ball flew from my son’s hands, skittering across the water, tearing across the channel in front of us. I watched as my son tried to follow it, trotting on tiptoe, but then stopping, aware that he was almost literally in over his head.

A crowd of kids at the beach with boats and an island in the distance.

The channel before the tide came in.
Note the distant island. Crazy, right?
Summer 2014

The older boy was crushed. My son was crushed.

I thought about my environmental friend and how she’d hate that beach ball washing up on someone’s beach. I thought about how disappointed that boy and my son were.

And so I dove out into the deep water and swam after it. I swam around boats. I swam around chains from anchors. The coldness of the water stole my breath away and froze my jaw. I swam in a modified freestyle doggy paddle keeping my head mostly out of the water. Whenever I came close to the ball it skipped just out of reach of my fingers.

When I stopped to gauge my progress I turned to see I’d somehow swum over halfway across the channel. During that momentary hesitation the current carried me five feet to the side.

I realized my mistake, the wicked rip current as the tidal water poured into the channel. I was amazed by my own stupidity and the size of the challenge I’d foolishly created.

I labored to swim back to shore leaving the ball to scuttle away on its journey. When I got too tired for freestyle I flipped over to a weak backstroke. It took forever. I finally could see the sandbar far beneath me and struggled to drop my feet, barely touching the bottom. I leaned into the current, waved with fake enthusiasm to my son and trudged towards the shore.

When I dragged my chest then hips out of the water, my legs shook. I felt like Sandra Bullock in the closing scene of Gravity.

My friends stood at the water’s edge, talking about all the people who had died swimming across the channel, and my son stood with hands clasped, next to them.

My son walked out into the water, took my hand and then carefully walked next to me as I cleared the shallows.

I fell into the nearest beach chair, and he sat right on my lap for the rest of the day, the cool older boy forgotten.

And so now that my youngest daughter is taking swim lessons I’ve decided to use my time to swim laps next to the shallow lanes where the teacher instructs the 3 and 4-year-olds. Sometimes the owner of the swim center, who’s taken to walking the lanes since his stroke a few years back, will gruffly bark out of the side of his mouth, “You need to breathe less… You’re laboring too much… Every third or fourth stroke maybe!”

I’ve continued swimming, each week feeling slightly less haggard and graceless in my kids’ goggles and my skirted momkini. And for Christmas this year my husband got me the coolest goggles ever and a sassy red lap suit bikini, no less.

Today, while Cabot swam, Mica sat on a bench by himself quarantined from kindergarten by a night of croupy coughing. He read his Guinness Book of World Records book, occasionally looking up at me. Finally he crouched at the end of my lane and waited for my return. “I love how good yaw swimming. Keep going!” And he gave me a thumbs up. For a moment I felt like Michael Phelps or a mermaid or seal, all lithe moves, smoothe speed and strength.

Swimming laps  December 2014

Swimming laps
December 2014

Almost 40 years ago, my oldest sister taught me to swim. She says she did it to make up for the infamous hippity-hop-down-the-stairs incident, a story for another day.

But it’s good to realize that I deserve a real practice suit and a pair of goggles now. That I’m strong enough to swim some serious laps in front of the moms watching lessons, the old guy walking the lanes who owns the place, and my croupy son and four-year-old daughter.

And that next time, I’ll get that beach ball or I’ll know better not to bother.

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23 comments on “Learning to Swim

  1. Burns the Fire
    March 30, 2015

    I have no idea how I look when I swim, but I sure love how I feel. Go, Jen!!

    • jgroeber
      March 30, 2015

      Yes, I love it, too! Looking forward to trying out my sleek new skills in the open water. Perchance to dream.

  2. UpChuckingwords
    March 30, 2015

    You’re inspiring.

    • jgroeber
      March 30, 2015

      Thank you for popping in. You win the concise comment of the post award. 😉 Which is a challenge. Usually Brenda at Burns the Fire wins it for fewest words.
      Hope to see you back soon.

  3. Singbetterenglish
    March 31, 2015

    The love shines out of your husband’s Christmas present to you. Give him a hug from me!

    When I was reading your close call with the rip tide, every time you mentioned the ‘channel’ I kept visualising our English Channel and had you out among the container ships, weaving gracefully between the ferry boats, with a beach ball just out of reach. (Then, in my mind, you reached France, rescued the ball and had a bowl of hot chocolate and a pile of croissants on the beach).

    Good for you for finessing your swimming style. It must be an inspiration for your children to see you doing it. We often tell children how they should stick with things to learn them properly. We don’t often demonstrate it in our own lives.

    All best wishes
    Elaine

    • jgroeber
      April 11, 2015

      Ah, the English channel! How much more heroic than our little rip tide lane of boats. I definitely deserved a bowl of hot chocolate though. And a croissant!
      And today I put on roller skates to teach my four-year-old how to roller skate at a skating party. Not many grown-ups did it, but I kept thinking, “I expect her to do it and I’m not willing to do it, too?” When do we stop throwing ourselves into the whole experience?
      Thank you so much for stopping by, Elaine. Even though I’m terrible at replying in a timely manner, your comments are a lovely treasure.

  4. kellylmckenzie
    March 31, 2015

    As the mother who sat on deck for for 11 years watching her two at swim club this hit home. They belonged to the club for 12 years and one summer I joined the club’s masters program. It was so much fun. Didn’t have the courage to do it in the indoor pool in the winter though. Too many folks in the stands. SO SO SO admire you. Good on you. Keep it up. And thanks for the nudge to get back in the pool.

    • jgroeber
      April 11, 2015

      Oh to race as a swimmer? Sometimes I try to race the man WALKING in the lane next to me (he always wears black socks, sneakers and a XXXL t-shirt while walking his laps in the pool.) I think he’s a surprisingly fast walker for his girth though because whenever I’m close to catching up I start to get dizzy from the lack of oxygen from trying too hard and not breathing enough. Or maybe I’m just a very slow swimmer.
      Now go for a swim. You’ll be a mermaid.

  5. Home That We Built
    March 31, 2015

    I wonder where Elaine, the comment from above, comes from? Or which books she reads. You see, I had almost the same image of you, Jen, swimming across that channel – it surely HAD to be the English Channel! Swimming is the best fitness/yoga/workout/meditation there is, for me in any case! Sweet sweet post 🙂 I can’t wait till the water in our pool heats up a bit. I find it utterly unfair that I have to wait for almost June for the water in the pool to heat up for swimming, while daily temperatures are in the 80’s already here in Vegas!

    • jgroeber
      April 11, 2015

      Ha! The English channel! Perhaps that’s next?
      And yes, to a yoga-type workout in swimming. I am amazed at how quiet it is in the water. Even when I’m forced to bring all my kids along I like to just sink down to the bottom and sit there holding my breath, watching their little legs frog kick around me in almost absolute silence.
      Here’s hoping you can swim again soon!

  6. talesfromthemotherland
    March 31, 2015

    Bravo! You’re my favorite mermaid!

    • jgroeber
      April 11, 2015

      Now I know I’m probably your only mermaid, but still, I’ll take the compliment! Always a treat to see you here!

      • talesfromthemotherland
        April 13, 2015

        Well, actually… I am a huge mermaid fan (I have a mermaid bathroom at home!) and blogger friend Jennie Saia and I have long been linked as mermaid buddies. Blogger Rochelle Wisoff-Fields, who runs Friday Fictioneers is one too. So, I’m simply moving you to the top. 😉 Because… well, I just adore you. xox

  7. mollytopia
    April 3, 2015

    Hahaha momkini! Good for you Jen! I love the though of you in your sassy goggles and new bikini : ) That swim half-way across the channel is terrifying, but what a great effort by you!

    • jgroeber
      April 11, 2015

      I have to say, after eating about a basket worth of chocolate this past week and a pig worth of pork, I felt like I was wearing a flesh-colored quilted fat suit under that momkini. I kept telling myself it was the penance for all that candy so I kept trying to swim harder!

  8. Heidi
    April 4, 2015

    Love it! Inspires me to get myself back in the pool. Triathlon season is coming…

    • jgroeber
      April 11, 2015

      You know that first time back in the water was a WWHD (What Would Heidi Do) moment. I knew you’d swim. So you are in fact the one inspiring me!

  9. Jenn Berney
    April 4, 2015

    I’m inspired. I think I know how much mojo it takes to swim in the spare lane with others around. If you can do that, maybe I can get back into the habit of running three times a week. And I love Mica–who could stop swimming with that kind of fan base?

    • jgroeber
      April 11, 2015

      I’m telling you, I may have to mail Mica to you for a playdate. You’d have a blast! His skinny jeans, the absence of Rs, his complete confidence in making aht out of gahbage. Now he writes books all day long. Like Yooniverse Moose. Universe moose! Who doesn’t want to read that book?!
      You can contemplate that on your next run. 😉

      • Jenn Berney
        April 12, 2015

        Oh, my. I would very much like to read Yooniverse Moose.

  10. adventureswiththepooh
    April 10, 2015

    Ummm….I just really glad you are alive. Really.

    • jgroeber
      April 11, 2015

      I was thinking how sweet that comment is (and it is!) but then I realized you may have been acknowledging the sheer stupidity of my trying to swim after that ball in the first place. Ha! Always a mom…

  11. Perfection Pending
    April 21, 2015

    I’m a horrible swimmer. Never really learned. Never had lessons. I’m jealous. And have a fear of my children drowning as a result. This is a depressing comment, but I loved your post.

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This entry was posted on March 30, 2015 by in Memory, Surviving Motherhood, The Children, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

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