Monday, June 14, 2010
Both my girls have their swim lessons in the same pool at the Y, so I can sit on the bench at the side with the other moms and nannies and watch everything. I swing my head back and forth like I'm at a tennis match to see three year old Nora placing a rubber ducky on a kickboard at one end, then back to watch kindergartener Mia at the other end of the pool doing the dog paddle, then back to Nora floating on her back with the teacher gently cradling her head. Both girls grin the whole time. Nora's mouth is so wide open with delight, I worry she'll swallow the pool water.
The air has a sharp note of chlorine and hard tile surrounds us, but all else is soft here - the lights, the warmth from the heated pool, the giggles of the children as they sit on the side of the pool, swinging their legs in the water, waiting a turn. For a brief half an hour I fully enjoy the experience, feeling no need to be anywhere else, no need to check any monitor for a minor change, no need to even read. I'm just there with the girls, hearing their happy talking with the gentle teachers, making note of each bit of improvement, holding my breath when Mia's head goes under. She emerges with a loud guttural gasp and the teacher calmly advises her, "make Princess bubbles."
"Here, I'll show you," says Teacher and she dips below the surface, makes a tiny puff and emerges with a funny humming mew that cracks the kids up. I laugh too. Good teachers are such an amazing thing. They make patience and invention and creative problem solving look so easy.
But swimming must be taught by experience. All the words in the world can't convince my daughters of what their bodies can do - they need to find their own way.
When I have the time on a weekend to sneak away for a workout, I do my own slow laps in a leisurely breaststroke that barely gets my hair wet. It's the equivalent of a walk around the block rather than a hard run but it gets my heart rate up for a few minutes and leaves my muscles all noodly. Hey, some exercise is better than none, right? The water feels soft on my skin and I float nearly weightless. My body does what I ask of it. I can't wait for the girls to feel this ease in the water. Now, during their lessons, I clench my hands together at the frantic splash of Mia's flailing kicks, at the way she strains to keep her face barely up out of the water.
"Free time," says Teacher. Mia calls, "Yay!" and Nora starts putting on a pair of flippers as big as clown shoes.
The serious subtext under all the laughter and lightness of Teacher's tone is that the girls are learning skills to lessen water's deadly threat. This knowledge weighs on me. For the girls, it's all games and fun, like the visit of Officer Friendly to day camp, like practicing a fire escape route. All part of growing up, learning to sidestep risk, to live with it, to find pleasure in life's uncertainty rather than fear. Soon they will feel light in the water. They'll figure out a lungful of air can magically suspend them on the surface. Buoyancy will seem an instinct rather than a mystery. And another tiny weight will be lifted off me as they continue on their long journey to independence, to the days when I can't keep them safe, only hope them safe.