Friday, December 10, 2010

Swimming Lessons

Have you seen my comfort zone anywhere? Because I’ve been looking for it for quite some time. I vividly remember the last time I was there: I was pretty sure I had this mothering thing down, I felt confident I knew what I was all about as a person, my husband had a good job, everything looked set. I was sure I knew where we were going and what it would look like. I was even happy with my weight. Ahhh, 2003.

As it turns out, our little family was dangling above deep waters and we just didn’t know it yet. My kids weren’t old enough to show me that I knew nothing about mothering and was in fact a selfish, immature, bungling mess. The career change that I thought would turn us into normal (!) people actually only proved that the only molds my husband I were going to fit into were the ones in which we were made. And I won’t go into all the details, but it wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the deep end of the pool.

At times it was exhilarating. For a while I was convinced that Great Things were just ahead. That’s how it goes in stories, right? You struggle through deep water and come out, shining and glorious and strong, on the other side.

I learned that when you’re in deep water you tend to start swimming. Shallow water allows you to stand still. You might make a few feeble attempts at swimming, but as long as the ground is right there under your feet there’s always the option of standing up. It’s hard to learn what swimming is like if you stand up every time you want to take a breath. So I learned about treading water, and floating on my back, and not hyperventilating while I learned the front crawl.

I kept thinking that once I learned how to swim I would get back to the shallow end of the pool. My work would be done. Sort of like in college when I would go into a violin lesson after a week of good, hard practicing, expecting some sort of celebration because I had mastered something. My teacher always acknowledged the work, but the party never happened. I had only done what I was supposed to do. He and I were both glad about it, but there was always more ahead. Mastery meant new expectations and new work, not to mention a new definition of mastery. Not an easy lesson—in violin, or in life.

So I’m swimming. Some days I love the rhythm of it, and the buoyancy of my body in the water. Some days I am so tired and discouraged I don’t think I can bring my head up out of the water one more time. Some days I spend all my energy trying to touch the bottom, other days I cling to the edge of the pool. Overall, I’m a pretty slow swimmer. I have to keep learning the same lessons over and over again, and I still tend to hyperventilate when I think about how deep the water is. But I am swimming.

2003 is easy to romanticize. The truth is that the year was shot through with the rumblings of future changes and challenges. That might sound ominous, but I don’t mean it to. I’m glad I am where I am, and I’m thankful for the changes our family has been through in the past seven years. All of them.

I fully expect that one of these days the swimming instructor is going to say, “Okay, kiddo, you’ve learned a lot. But this was just training. One of these days we’re going to take you out of the pool and you can have a go at the English Channel. But before that, well there’s no delicate way to put this…I think you should consider learning to swim without the arm-floaties.” Has anybody seen my goggles?


  1. I love what you've written here! I completely agree--life just keeps throwing new challenges at us and we never get to where we are going because that keeps changing.

  2. Oh Karen, I hear you!

    BTW, have I ever mentioned to you that not only do I not know how to swim, but I'm *afraid of water*???!!!!

    Outstanding post. You articulated my last week or two!! Where are the people who are supposed to throw out the life preservers?!

  3. Honestly, sometimes I think they are standing at the side of the pool smirking. I waste a lot of energy thrashing around and sputtering when I'm still afloat...


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