Just Keep Swimming

“In water, like in books–you can leave your life.”

-Lidia Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water

From the time my daughter Lucinda was two and a half months old, I have taken her to swim lessons. Two of the life lessons I hope to impart to Luci, now almost 2 years old, are self-reliance and a love and respect of water.

While I grew up in a land-locked state, I spent most of my summers at my maternal grandmother’s lake house or on a pontoon or sandy man-made beach at Pomme de Terre Lake with my paternal grandparents, not too far from the Ozarks. My younger sister and I would spend countless hours swimming, hiding under an inflatable raft or the air pockets of the boat dock, counting water bugs and daddy long legs, and singing so our mother knew we were alive while we played under the wooden boards.

My dad’s parents could not swim. I am not entirely clear on how my parents rationalized letting their two young daughters go swimming with people who could not, but we somehow we managed.

Maybe part of the reason my mother did not worry is that she, like me, had been teaching us to swim as soon as we were able to pull on a bathing suit. She knew we could swim. By the time I was 11, I was one of the few girls in my Girl Scout troop who passed the American Red Cross swimming test, which included then 15 minutes of survival floating and treading water, among other swimming and CPR skills.

My mother was the original water-lover who instilled in us a love of swimming. Family lore recounts how she went water skiing hours before her wedding to my father, much to the chagrin of her mother. My mom was very much a sun-kissed bride that day, perhaps a little pink from sun exposure.

Nowadays, on Wednesday evenings after preschool, Luci runs to the door of the YMCA, eager for us to get to the pool. I have to remind her not to run once we are poolside, and sometimes she listens.

Most times, I still carry her excited toddler body, all wriggles and kinetic energy, and as soon as we enter the water she relaxes and giggles the most delighted of laughs, the knowledge of what is to come. Ms. Amanda starts class with a song where Luci’s arms and legs cut through the water and she blows bubbles. Luci is learning how to swim, and it is magical.


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As I watch my daughter pull herself out of the pool all by herself into a standing position, I feel excitement and pride as she jumps to me in the water. Suddenly, as I embrace her little body in the pool, I see our lives speeding up.

Luci at lessons without me and me watching through the glass. Luci swimming with friends at the neighborhood pool while I actually read poolside and cool off when I want to instead of constantly monitoring where she is at all times and if she is afloat. Luci in high school telling me she is going to the pool and please, for the love of all things holy, do not call out to her while she is with her friends.

These moments of her jumping to me, wanting to be caught, are sacred, I realize. How many times will she do this until she tells me, “No, Mom, I’ve got it”?

Part of being a parent, I am learning, is a constant state of love and loss. Love of who the child becomes and what is lost and gained in her independence. And while my daughter’s swim lessons underscore how quickly she is growing up, even at barely two years of age, there is innate joy in letting go and existing in something larger than one’s self.