Thursday, July 31, 2014


I've started swimming again. I've been running a lot, too, but it's hot now and if I don't get out the door by 7:30am - 8am at the latest - the temperature is already too high. And that's hard to do with both the girls. I'd been managing a couple times a week at least; on Mondays and Wednesdays we'd go out for three miles and end at the pool just in time for swim lessons. But I think I might have a case of retrocalcaneal bursitis, something's painful in my heel, and most of the treatment consists of icing and not running. So, swimming seemed like a good change of pace for the summer.

I'm trying to reach my goal weight but also I just really like the investment into my physical and mental health when I'm actively using my body on a regular basis. It can be hard - impossible, even - to find time to exercise when you are a mom. I love taking the girls on runs, and I am so thankful that Jon can give me a consistent hour and a half to take some time to leave the house and do something for myself. I'm also thankful that my town just renovated and reopened our other Olympic-size pool year-round, just a five-minute bike ride down the street from my house.

I literally cannot remember the last time I swam laps. I can't even remember which pool I might have been in. The gym where I was living in my post-college pre-marriage days? Surely not in college? I don't think I've ever swam here in our town...? I didn't even own an appropriate swimsuit, so I went down to the sporting goods store to buy one, without giving it too much thought. After squeezing into and peeling off the fourth or fifth style, I began to get concerned that this might be a more major undertaking than I had anticipated. Luckily, the last one was a perfect fit, if not a bit big. I ended up buying a suit in the same size I wore in high school, though I am fifteen pounds heavier now. It fits. I promise I am not deluding myself.

I picked a hot pink swim cap and chose a dubious pair of goggles from a selection of equally poor options. I wrote my last name on my cap, though I did not do that regularly when I was swimming regularly, and realized that I've never written my married name on a swim cap.

During my first foray back into the water, my handwritten workout blew away and two strangers (both men) complimented my stroke. The dubious goggles, the kind with plastic gaskets around the sockets and a notched plastic headstrap, would not stay snug and leaked underwater during the butterfly. I perused Amazon and rediscovered the goggles I was familiar with, but I could not remember what I preferred. SwedishSocket Rockets? It was like trying to remember a language I used to speak fluently.

(I used to have a pair of goggles with holographic dinosaur eyes emblazoned on the lenses. They looked great with this badass olive and gold foil-esque suit I had, which I convinced my mom to buy for me from a sale under an E-Z Up at a meet...)

I pull my suit on and it's like I'm pulling on the skin of the girl I used to be. I stretch it up past the silver lightning on my thighs, over hips widened by the birth of two children, folding in the dimpled and wrinkled dough of my stomach, and suddenly I'm wearing the tight skin of my youth.

The smell of swimming reminds me. It smells like school, marching band practice, after school jobs. Like summer, and winter, and then summer again. Like love and magic and hormones and angst and youth and freedom.

I was not a disciplined athlete. I swam because I loved it and because it was easy enough for me to feel good, to win races and feel accomplished and successful. It's possible that I never finished a complete workout during my entire swimming career. I used to say that with a little hint of devious pride, but now I am embarrassed at my laziness. Imagine how good I might have been if I'd really practiced, really applied myself. If I hadn't let other things pretend to be more important, if I hadn't drowned in my own damaged feelings and relationships. If I hadn't given up something that I really, truly loved. If I hadn't quit.

In practice, I used to swim behind a friend because I couldn't count laps or keep track of where we were in the workout. I relied on her so my mind could wander. My workouts are more precious now. They cost me, in money, and time, and the bits of my day I have to cut out and piece together so that I can still get everything done and feed the kids three square meals a day. I determine my workouts and distance in advance and force myself to finish every lap I had planned. There is no one to count for me and though I would love to let my mind wander for an hour, I force myself to concentrate on my stroke and the set, so I don't lose track. I still do, though, and do things out of order. I was swimming my I.M. sets in Medley Relay order for two days before I realized it.

I'm unaccustomed to swimming laps during free swim. I prefer the lane closest to the deep end, which is nearest the diving board, and the constant whoops and vibrating board and concussive splashes are a new distraction. I am also unaccustomed to swimming in a pool with gutters. I find that without a shallow end to lounge in or a comfortable edge to hang on to, languishing on the wall is much less appealing. I imagine how many more yards I could have swam if my home pools had been less hospitable...

I relish the time underwater. I love watching my shadow while I dolphin kick. I love staring up at the sky and clouds through the glassy surface while I dolphin kick on my back, blowing a trail of fat, silvery bubbles. I am still competitive, swimming faster whenever someone in the next lane creeps up on my heels. I am sure that I can beat the old man with the pull buoy next to me. His girth is deceiving, though, and I remain in his wake. I love the way I smell like chlorine again, the way the smell seeps into everything and stays there, ever so faintly.

Mostly, I love the way I feel after I get out of the pool. My arms and legs are like jelly, I can barely propel myself out of the water and onto the deck. I am light and tired in the way I only ever feel when my body has just spent awhile engaging every muscle and brain cell in the same activity. I love the way my body is feeling slimmer, and feeling stronger every time I get in the pool, and in between. I just wish I could lay down and sleep afterwards, like I did when I was a kid, instead of having to fix dinner for my own kids. But I hope they see me doing something for myself, something that I love, and learn to love using their bodies, too. I'll be really happy if they want to join the swim team.

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