Today is Haven’s last day of swimming lessons for the summer. Slowly and with success, she progressed through the first two levels of the preschool lessons – she jumps in (let’s be honest, it’s a belly flop each and every time), swims with kicks and paddles, pops her head up to breathe, glides across the pool in a superman pose, dives down to retrieve a pool toy. All of it. She does all of these things. She looks like a wiggly pink fish as she propels her body through the water, more diagonal than straight, more effort than grace.
We’ve had Haven in lessons all summer long, a half hour every day. The every day part is getting a little long – I’m kind of tired of the rush of swimsuits, sunscreen, ponytail – but it’s just one of those life skills we thought absolutely necessary, especially when the grandparents have a pool.
Besides, I just can’t fathom not knowing how to swim. Something in me feels like it has always known how to swim, how to be in the water. I remember being in a swim class with my mom at three or four years old, swimming underwater like a little turtle. I remember following my older siblings off the diving board into the deep end of the pool, with little hesitation, knowing that they would be there to assist me to the side, if needed. And I remember – and love – that end-of-day exhaustion that comes from spending an entire day out on the water, sunburned and tired, my body still rolling and swaying as I’d drift off to sleep in my bed. From hotel pools on road trips to summer swim lessons to days on the lake while we camped at a state park to the wave pool nearby, I grew up to love the water. I’m not sure if it was the buoyancy, the ease and glide of swimming, the refreshment of the water, the sun, or the fun, but I would often giggle, just giggle, for the first few minutes in the water.
I’m not sure what my children’s experience of water will be like. I grew up in Minnesota, where you run into a lake at nearly every turn (no lie), where water is plentiful, and summers are sacred. My kids are growing up in California, in the desert, where summer is nearly year-round. Ocean swimming is different from lake swimming. I’m not saying that one is better or worse, land of lakes or desert (well, not entirely); it’s more this realization that Haven will not have my childhood. I want her to be confident and at ease in the water, I want her to find delight in diving into a pool, I want her to giggle when she jumps in because she just can’t help herself. And she may – or she may not. Sometimes it is weird to think that she is building her childhood with a whole different set of blocks than I used to build my own. I know that sounds obvious, but isn’t that often how we see things, through our own memories, our own experiences, our own context? This, of course, extends beyond just my kids’ experiences of water – it’s weird to think they will not know the luscious greenness of summer, or falling asleep to a thunderstorm, or waking up to a fresh snowfall, or freeways that are merely 4-lanes or 6-lanes instead of 8- or 10-lanes.
So maybe California is a good reminder for me, that their childhoods will be different from mine. Because, even if I were raising them in Minnesota, who knows if we’d spend as much time at the lake or at the pool, camping or waterskiing or traveling? Maybe this is a good reminder that their childhood experience of water starts now and it starts at this big aquatic center and at the in-laws’ pool and at our friend’s pool and at the beach and in the kiddie pools and sprinklers in the backyard. It will look different than my experiences, my memories, but, so far, they are smiling and giggling when they are in the water. Not bad.