4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I started swimming again, and it’s been a revelation.
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.
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.
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.