Remember – don’t forget to breathe.
The boy standing chest deep in front of me has had a smile the size of the Grand Canyon since I arrived and if I wasn’t utterly committed to this, I would offer to remove it for him. This is exactly the reason that, for most of my life, the only use I have found for a bathing suit has combined lounging in the sun with a good book.
And yet, here I am. Cold, wet and slightly irritated at the man-boy that happens to be in charge at this very moment. Don’t forget to breathe. As if I could possibly forget.
I blame this on my husband and while my own personal jury is still out as to whether or not he is looking down from somewhere, I do know this. If he is watching, he is probably kicking back on some cloud with his trademark grin and tossing back a cold microbrew. (That’s right, my heaven serves beer.) Standing here in this pool preparing to propel myself through the water with grace – and by that I do not mean the frothing mass that you see on the Discovery Channel when crocodiles descend on their prey – is on the long list of things I am now learning to do now that he is gone.
To be fair, he is not entirely at fault. My ability to sink like a rock has been cultivated from an early age. My childhood was spent above the Arctic Circle and unless you had an interest in hypothermia, there wasn’t a need to take a dip in the ocean. By the time I landed in warmer climes I had reached those awkward teenage years when wearing a bathing suit had the potential to permanently scar your psyche. Worse yet was the fear that you might earn the unfortunate nickname “Flounder” because that was exactly what you did while wearing that bathing suit. Almost exclusively, I managed to avoid pool activities throughout my entire high school career. Don’t ask how – you really don’t want to know.
But now that my own personal lifeguard is no longer in residence, learning to swim has landed at the top of the must-do list. I should be able to fish my children out of the pool if necessary, not the other way around. There is also that pesky never-shrink-from-a-challenge character flaw of mine. One friend has suggested we tackle a sprint triathlon (I am pretty sure that “flounder” is not a race category option) and yet another is ready to put money down that I will find a way to wriggle out.
Putting on this lycra suit – designed to keep everything in, but only if you have the agility, strength and willpower to get your body into it in the first place – was both mortifying and liberating. For me, swimming lessons are the wide-awake equivalent of the dream that you are standing naked in front of high school assembly. Except that right now I am not dreaming and, let’s be honest, when you are in a bathing suit you might as well be wearing nothing at all.
But with the suit, I also pulled on something else. Like Batman when he dons the cape, except that he has all sorts of fancy gadgets and toys and all I have is a faded beach towel.
Putting on this suit and getting into this pool was something bigger – another step in the reinvention of me. A reminder that I am still alive, that there are so many doors I haven’t yet opened, and that I don’t back down. It was also a reminder that the reason he and I meshed so perfectly was because we both shared the same passion for life. Yes, he would be laughing at me right now. I can almost hear him. But he would also be challenging me, not just to dive headfirst into something new and daunting but to rise above it and succeed. His approach to life? Go big or stay home.
So here I am. Cold, wet and secretly relieved to be wearing a suit tight enough to keep everything in place while flailing.