Yesterday I did not drown.
The vast majority of people in the world can say this on the vast majority of days. The group of people on any given day who did drown the day before and are still talking about it is relatively slim.
Yet, of that vast majority, not all of them are doing their first significant swimming since half a life and a third of their body weight ago. That was what I was doing yesterday morning at the absurd hour of 5:30 a.m. in our neighborhood YMCA.
I’ve been swearing for four years now that I would start swimming before work. It’s been an awful lot of swearing. E is quite tired of it. I swore when we first moved, as if the suburbs would suddenly make me a fitness nut out of sheer boredom of not living in the city anymore. I swore when I was getting lumpy the next year, swore again when I got super-fit by practicing yoga three times a week, and swore some more when I joined a start-up last year and my gym time went down to nil.
It took a baby to get me to stop my swearing. I could slip my own vows for four years running, but so help me that baby was learning to swim as soon as she was old enough for her first lesson. I had seen all of the adorable photos from my friends and their swimming babies, and both of my parents still have amusing stories to tell about my baby swimming endeavors – and, honestly, there are very few stories they both tell the same way that do not involve Thriller or my aunt arriving to babysit me bearing a gallon jug of white wine.
Thus, we found a scruffy me and a chubby baby sitting at the counter at our local YMCA four weeks ago, waiting to get my photo taken. The swearing was over. Now we were doing.
Except, baby swim lessons – they’re not the most strenuous activity in the world. It’s not as though you are freestyling with them strapped to your back like a laser on a shark, you know? You are just pushing them through the water in the shallow end where you can stand. I sneak a little treading in at the end of every lesson, but it’s not exactly leaving me breathless.
Ah, but now I have a precious membership card in my wallet, which means half of the swear has been sworn. Now I just needed to get my body into the pool sans baby. So, for the those intervening four weeks I tried to wake up early enough to head to the pool before work.
Yeah – it just wasn’t happening. I am a motivated individual, but when you are juggling baby and the entire account book of a business and a cover band and god knows what else I claim to be doing with my time, the difference between waking up at 5:15 and 6:15 is a BIG DEAL. You can go to sleep in your swim trunks thinking soggy motivational thoughts and set every alarm, but when it comes down to it you are going to choose the extra hour of shut-eye every damn time. You being me, in this example.
That routine played out yesterday morning at 5:15 a.m. as it had for the past 29 days. I shut off the alarm and was about to turn over and go back to sleep. Then, I thought to myself, “What if your swimming is just as important to EV6’s lifetime cumulative happiness as her swimming? Even if it just makes you happier so you enjoy your time with her more. Then would it get you out bed?”
I laid on my back for a minute thinking about that.
Five minutes later I was in the car wearing swim trunks.
Nine minutes later I was halfway through an Olympic-length lap of freestyle thinking a few particular thoughts:
(a) I have not swum for more than a consecutive minute since I was fifteen.
(b) Even at fifteen, I don’t know if I ever attempted laps in an Olympic-sized pool.
(c) 5:30 a.m. is perhaps a bit too early to submerge one’s entire face in water and subsequently coordinate side-breathing.
(d) Wow, there’s like half a pool left in front of me.
(e) Come to think of it, I’ve always been pretty slow at freestyle.
(f) This staying afloat while moving forward thing (or, visa versa) is pretty strenuous compared to how hard it was when I was fifteen and weighed 75% of what I do right now without a single ounce of fat on my body.
(g) But fat is buoyant, right?
(h) Oh my lord, there is still more pool in front of me.
After my first lap and a brief bout of hyperventilation while clinging to the pool side, the lifeguard suddenly emerged from his little office to sit in a chair that happened to be directly facing my lane. My fellow swimmers had received no such treatment. Despite my frequent concerns that I would arrive early to find an entire and entirely-lithe high school swim team dominating the lanes, I was swimming with one middle age woman who also (wisely) was not putting her face in the water and an older gentleman who swam a slow but unceasing freestyle the entire time I was at the pool without stopping once.
The lifeguard continued to stare directly at me as I clumsily completed another lap, as if he was considering administering the swim test they give to tweens and granting me a neon arm band. I probably would have helped my case if I didn’t dip precipitously under the water about two thirds of the way through every lap.
But let me remind you of something about me. It might take me a long time to do something. I might have a lot of concerns about the critical path and the project management triangle. But when I am in the pool getting lapped by the dry-faced lady and the never-ending senior paddler with a lifeguard judging me, you had better believe I will find a way to eek out each successive lap just like I made it through my first hot yoga class while being convinced I was dying the entire time.
So I swam. I did some modified freestyle. I did a side-stroke. About halfway through I remembered that I was actually not terrible at backstroke, and switched to that. Each lap was still a herculean struggle, but moving my body through the water stopped seeming like such an absurd idea during my wall-clinging breaks.
My half-hour of morning pool time done, I emerged triumphantly from the pool – only to very nearly collapse into a heap when gravity took over and I realized I felt like someone had been beating me with a sack of oranges. I gingerly noodled over to a bench and sank down, trying to affect an air of contemplation and self-evaluation so the guard would not come over and check me for delayed drowning.
Five minutes later I rose and limped to my car so I could go wake up a baby and tell her about how her father just went swimming.