“I did it! I did it!”
In Lesson Six Beth showed me how to roll from my belly, blowing bubbles through my nose, and return back on my back. I’d tried this before and never could do it without a nose full of water — but I suddenly did it. Then I begged Beth to let me try it again and again, full of joy that I could do it. I got it!
I’ve been watching kids at the pool lately, watching how they learn. There are two tiny girls, maybe one- and two-years-old, who jump repeatedly from the edge of the deep end into the water and swim to their mother’s open arms. They laugh in the water, look like sleek little seals. A little boy does forward and backward somersaults. I want to learn like a kid. I imitate them — even as they imitate each other. Turning over, making big arm movements, kicking, doing “jumping jacks” while floating on my back. I also try pretending to swim — this seems to work well for me — trying movements the way it looks like “real” swimmers do. Beginning readers pretend to read, why not beginning swimmers pretending to swim?
Sometimes I “channel”— try to imagine myself with the confidence of my 13-year-old niece, Gabriella, a champion swimmer and triathlete. When she was two and a half, my sister called and tearfully reported that Gabriella couldn’t swim yet — I assured her that Gabriella would learn and she quickly did. On one visit to their Texas home, five-year-old Gabriella patiently tried to teach me to swim (she swam with the ease of an otter by then). Patiently she demonstrated the same moves over and over, letting me practice, moving my arms for me. If I lived closer to Gabriella, I might have learned to swim years ago.
Every lesson Beth helps me adjust my head, my neck, and my hips into a more relaxed position. Relaxation in the pool doesn’t come naturally to me. She helps me move my arms more gracefully. I think of the mermaid painting in my bathroom with the floaty arms and that becomes my visual. Beth kicks my legs for me, while I float high on the water, near the surface.
Last week I was in the California high desert where between hikes, I delighted in the Mt. Whitney hotel pool — “swimming” underwater. My partner, Carol, did laps in the deep end one day, but another she huddled on the edge with a bunch of European guests — the water too cold, while I was that blue-lipped kid who wouldn’t leave the pool even when it began to rain, until forced out because of lightning.
After my lesson, I got into the car with Carol and announced: I did it! I got it! I flipped from one side to the other and breathed! The child-like “I got it!” exuberant joy stayed with me for days.
Dear Shoney: Success is contagious, builds confidence, and sets up a state of receptivity. I equate the excitement I saw in your eyes with the way I imagine a puppy feels when being off-leash for the first time. Congratulations! ~Beth