Water. I’ve always had an interesting relationship with it.
I began my love affair with water at age 8, when I joined the swim team. From that day forward, daily, hour-long swim practice turned me into a wannabe fish. I loved swimming, diving down to the very bottom of the pool, holding my breath and performing underwater gymnastics.
Back then, I didn’t get much exposure to rivers, lakes, or the ocean. The farthest I got from the YMCA swimming pool was the Atlantic, on trips to my grandparents’ house near the beach. But wherever I was underwater, I felt I had a grace and freedom that I didn’t possess on land. I wished that I could live down there, making my home in an underwater cave and sleeping on the cool deep of the ocean floor.
Time passed and my relationship with water got, well, complicated. After years of competitive swimming, I found myself in a new phase of life that didn’t include water play. As a young, religious mother of small children, going into the water became much more involved. Gone were the speedo, rubbery swim cap, and slick goggles. Instead, I battled with head wraps, oversized t-shirts, and swimming skirts.
Swimming began to feel less fun.
As for the beach, it became all about keeping my youngest child safe in the shallow water. I relegated myself to shore duty. We built sandcastles while I watched my husband entertain the older kids in deep water.
Then one day, things changed.
Complicated swimwear or not, I decided that it was high time I get back into deep water. Once my kids all knew how to swim, the position of shore lifeguard was no longer open. So, after a few months of continuing to sit on the sidelines, I took the plunge and headed back into the deep.
I had forgotten the simple joy of chasing waves – of jumping up to ride the easy ones and getting pummeled by the giant ones. I had missed getting water stuck in my nose and ears. Armed with giant goggles, I could now get to know life on the ocean floor all over again.
Does it matter that I’m middle-aged and decked out in very un-cool swimming gear? The water is mine again. Whether it be lake, river, or sea, I can experience the intense joy of full immersion.
Everyone’s got their own swimming challenge, from string bikinis to hard contact lenses (although some adults manage to embrace the sea with gusto). But it’s worthwhile it to find your own return path (or first path) into the water. Get on in there. Experience the freedom and buoyancy that’ll make you feel like a kid again. Even if you come home with a nose full of saltwater.