Swimming Lessons: Reflections from a Mom at the Deep End
When I try to imagine what hell might be like, I go no further than thinking of a swim meet: It's hot. (90 degrees hot.) It's uncomfortable. (Bleachers or stadium chairs, anyone, for the next six to eight hours while you inhale chlorine and body odor? Super.) It's loud. (Imagine 1,000 people talking and screaming in a room with no sound panels--and if we want to go biblical--throw some gnashing of teeth in there while you're at it.) It's irritating. (I suppose even the most patient and nicest people in the world can behave badly when they're overheated, tired, hungry, and jammed together with other humans behaving badly, too. Picture parents screaming at their kids, coaches screaming your kids, over-tired and over-scheduled kids melting down and crying, bored siblings taunting each other, mothers and fathers gossiping, and everyone wondering collectively: When in the hell it will all be over.
And then...and then...
Your kid steps up. Your scrappy, tired, patient kid who sat with you all day and played Sorry!, Minecraft,and read 10 chapters for his book report in his swimsuit while waiting his turn, steps up on the starting block. He takes his mark. Hears the start call. Leaps forward with all his might and then miraculously glides across the surface of the pool. It's just him. The water. And the other side of the pool that awaits him. And what was hell five seconds ago suddenly becomes--yep--glorious.
And you think: Dear God, that's my kid in this giant pool. You think: Just a few years ago this place was so terrifying to both of you--if he got too close to the edge he could fall in and sink. And then you realize: He's not going to sink now. No, he's not. He's not capable of sinking now. He is a swimmer. And then you think: Oh my god, he's not even doing half bad. So you clap. In spite of your tired, hot, and exhausted self: You clap. And before you know it you hear these whooping calls and your son's name and you realize: That's you. You. You're shouting his name with the chorus of other parents and kids shouting names. And then you think: Oh! He can't hear you, Mary. Stop. But, you don't care. You do it anyway, because you see that he's an arm's length ahead of everyone else in the pool and it dawns on you: He's actually going to win this heat. And then before you can think it, his few seconds in the pool are up and his head pops up out of the water and he sees your face, your thumbs up, and he smiles and uses his skinny, ropy arms to help him hop up out of the pool. Then he runs to you for his towel and looks up and says: "Did I do OK?"
And you want to say: OK? Did you do OK? You're amazing. You're a miracle. You want to say: I am so proud of you! But, you know he can't hear you in the deafening arena. And you know he knows, when he wraps himself into you and lets you lead him out the door, that he did OK. More than OK.
And then you take all your chairs and your wet gear out into the frozen night and climb into the minivan and settle in for a forty-five minute drive home, and your kids says: "It's a lot of work for a few seconds in the pool."
And then you realize: He's so right. He's so damn right. Swimming. Hell. Pain. Waiting. Working. It's a lot of work for a few seconds in the pool. And before you could say: Why don't we just quit. You stop yourself and think: No. He's good. He likes this. Be quiet. And then you think about all the stuff we all do that takes a lot of work for a few short seconds of glory.
Swimming is a lot like anything we do. We work for years and years and years at something. At first we're not very good--in fact we might sink, over and over again, until we get the right rhythm. Until we learn to stay afloat. We learn to breathe. To put one arm in front of the other. To use the right techniques. And then we become proficient. And then the craziest thing happens. Just when we don't think we're making any progress or we're getting anywhere at all, we surprise ourselves. Because the more we practice, the better we become. And sure, like swimming, there are so many times in life we don't want to work at it. We don't want to show up. We don't want to jump into the deep end and fight for our way across the proverbial pool. We want to stick to the side--hang out where it's safe; where we feel comfortable. But, if we don't let go, we can't get to the other side. And so we have to spend a few days in hell. We have to sweat. We have endure a lot of stuff we don't want to. We have to be patient. Because, in the end, it all adds up. Every little stroke. Every little breath. Every kick forward--gets us to other the side of the pool.
Some days, I don't feel like I am getting anywhere. I am swimming in circles. Working and working--for no more money, no more time. There never seems to be enough of either. If I am not working, I am driving kids from one activity to the next. And I seem to be sweating all the small stuff that moms have to sweat (or stuff just doesn't get done): There are forms to fill out, homework reviews to be done, doctors appointments to be made, and never-ending piles of laundry, dishes, and bills and bills and more bills that need attending to. It seems endless. Sometimes I feel like I am drowning. That at any moment I will sink. That I am going off the deep end.
And then, from the backseat of the minivan, a voice comes and reaches you: "I guess... it's all kinda worth it."
And you know what he means: Yes, yes it is worth it. Because it's all over in a few seconds. In a blink. The baby you thought would sink is now gliding across a pool. And, it might as well have been 19 seconds ago. This entire life might as well be 19 seconds. All that work. All those tough times. All that treading water in the deep end...
It's over before you know it, Mary.
So enjoy the 19 seconds. And, enjoy the work leading up to it. It's your life. It's all kinda worth it.