4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I could sit underwater and watch my children swim for hours.
Well, not hours. I’m no David Blaine. I can only hold my breath for about four times as long as my best breath-holding child.
But I could spend an afternoon mostly underwater watching my kids swim. It’s just gorgeous. It’s like Kodachrome, slow-motion with the near absence of their chattering voices. I would give anything for a camera to catch their pale-skinned bodies swirling just beneath the surface of a sky white canopy, to carry this quiet, floating version of them around to lift me up on the days they (literally) pull me down.
They become wholly themselves under the water. My awkward one fights the water with stiff-armed chops and uneven kicks, heaving his bottom up, thrusting his chest downward. The budding teen (she’s almost seven*, you know) does handstands and spins, kicks out like a mermaid or a ballerina. My athletic son drives through like an ocean animal made to fight the current. My littlest flails and dips, pirouettes awkwardly, only now learning to fly.
It is a cacophony of motion that rivets me, discordant and perfect. It feels like a memory.
We had an in-ground swimming pool in our backyard when I was growing up. It was something my father wanted, and something I think my mother sort of hated. It was small compensation for the fact that we were never allowed to have friends over when we were kids.
They’d had it built with an especially large shallow end so that my retarded brother could use it. It was in the shape of a kidney bean and wrapped around the corner of our house on our somewhat small suburban New Jersey plot of land.
I think that pool made my mother worry that someone would hurt themselves on the sloped sides, or worse yet, drown in it. She kept an internal list of likely victims: my retarded brother who actually suffered emersion in it only once, one of the neighborhood kids who might sneak in at night, or my somewhat spacey younger brother who took to disappearing (and falling dead asleep) behind couches, between mattresses, and under tables. We would run through the house screaming his name, always meeting in the backyard at approximately the same time to check for his small floating body in the blue water, only to later find him upside down and naked, sleeping behind the living room couch.
For the most part though, it was simply a blue, glistening pool whose chlorine would bleach our already blonde hair to a straw-like greenish yellow. My sisters and I swam endlessly when we were young as my mother stood sentry at the kitchen window watching us. We played fashion show on the diving board in our pool towels, cheated at Marco Polo, invented games about lagoons, underwater tea parties or synchronized swimmers.
When we were young, before my father got sick, he would lift us over his head and throw us into the deep end, or hold us on his back, soaring from one end to the other in one smooth dive. He was hail and hearty then, fair-haired and laughing in his white cut-off denim shorts.
After he got sick, my father would sit silently outside at night and watch my sisters and I swim in the inky darkness. We’d built a six foot fence to lock out the neighbors and the world, and so we’d often skinny dip, slapping our feet around the cement patio, the silky water turning us into seals.
In college I remembered that and wondered about it, wrote about those evenings, his pained stillness as he sat, a wraith in the darkness, only his lit cigarette tracing an arc of occasional movement. This, juxtaposed against our brilliant white limbs, flying, splashing, laughing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it all meant.
And I think I get it now. It was the beauty. We were his elixir, even more than the ubiquitous martini at his side. Our relentless youth and beauty, our bold life-force, it was the thing that connected him to living. We made him lighter as we dove and then rose again, dove and then rose.
Today I swim in the light, teaching my four sweet and terrible fish underwater tea party and lagoon.
Floating just below the surface with their incessant “Mom Mom Mom Mom” a syncopated whisper in the distance, I slowly pivot my head absorbing this delicate show, blue-white limbs framed in bright swimsuits, ephemeral, laced with iridescent blue bubbles.
In their presence I am a child again. And for a moment I am weightless.
(*This was written last August, rejected by one blog, and then left to sit in the dead letter file. I found her today and couldn’t help but think- yes, yes! Still true. The beauty, the elixir, the weightlessness.
If you want to see what I’m writing this week, please go find me at Scary Mommy where I write about aging in Love the One You’re With, or at the Mabelhood where I write about the beauty of August in For the Love of August. And if you like them, share them. It makes me feel way cooler than I actually am. Also, you can now find me on Twitter. If I actually figure out how to do it, I’ll share the gorgeous things I’m reading from around the web and the world, the things I write, what podcasts I’m listening to (besides This American Life, which I’m always listening to), and perhaps even some kooky observations from this lovely, kooky life.)