A month ago I couldn’t swim. Well, I couldn’t swim very well. I certainly wouldn’t go out of my depth and you wouldn’t catch me jumping in at the deep in or playing games which required me to swim out of my comfort zone in the shallow end!
For years I have taken my children to swimming lessons. Even during the cold winter months when they protest I encourage them to stick at it, knowing how important a life skill swimming is and also knowing how much I feel I miss out when I am unable to join in pool games.
A month ago we travelled to Tuscany in Italy for our summer holiday. We rented a holiday apartment with a pool and I vowed by that by the end of our fortnight in the sun that I would have increased my confidence and my swimming ability. On the first day I put on my bikini and flip-flops and made my way down to the pool. I spent some time reading on a sun-lounger, relaxing and enjoying the stunning view across the Tuscan countryside. I watched as the kids jumped and splashed and dived and I told myself I had to actually get into the water if I wanted to make any progress. So, with a little nervousness fluttering through me, I swapped my sunglasses for goggles, set my book aside and made my way poolside. I climbed down into the water, trying not to draw attention to myself. My husband and kids know how anxious I get around water and I could see them watching me. Once in the water I swam about in the shallow end, never straying so far that my feet couldn’t still reach the bottom (anyone who knows me knows this isn’t too far towards the deep end because I am tiny!). I enjoyed the water, the coolness was refreshing after the long journey the previous day and a welcome oasis in the scorching heat of the day.
I did the same the next morning, and the next until my middle son offered to teach me how to swim better. I had been watching him swimming over the previous few days and I was truly amazed at his confidence in the water. Of course I knew he could swim, I had been taking him to lessons for years, but I didn’t realize just how natural it was for him to be in the water and how at ease he was diving down to the deep end for weights. I was honoured by his offer and I mulled it over for a moment before agreeing. What did I have to lose? We started straight away! He explained to me the different strokes, when to breathe, how to move my arms and legs and waited patiently as I tried out the techniques. I flopped and flailed, and tried again, all the while with him gently encouraging me to keep going. He showed me how to tread water and how to swim down for weights. As the days passed we had our daily lesson whenever the pool was empty and before heading out sightseeing for the day. I felt my confidence begin to blossom and every evening I could feel the tension in my shoulders where my muscles had been working hard learning the new strokes.
The one thing I really wanted to be able to do was confidently jump in at the deep end and swim under water. I have for years had a recurring dream about swimming (bizarre for someone who doesn’t swim well I know!) and I always wake up feeling so refreshed. For years I have longed to swim like the ‘me’ in my dreams so I set myself the challenge that by the end of the holiday I would be able to do so.
My oldest son and middle son then began to collaborate and make ‘lesson plans’ and apparently I was to take a ‘swimming exam’ before our holiday was over. Admittedly, I was a little nervous at the prospect but decided I would face the challenge head-on. So, with the boys sleeping late every morning and me rising early, I tiptoed out of the apartment and headed for the pool. I swam a few lengths, enjoying having the pool to myself. I listened to the birds and cicadas and paused with each length that I swam to take in the glorious view.
‘This is good,’ I thought. ‘This is life. This is how I want to live.’
I ducked beneath the water once more, enjoying the stillness and the sensation of swimming underwater. There’s something so peaceful about it. Again, it occurred to me that this was how I wanted to live.
I don’t want to be the girl standing at the side watching others dive and splash around. I don’t want to be the girl watching others having all the fun. I don’t want to be the girl who shies away from challenges. I want to be the girl who jumps into the pool. I want to be the girl that jumps into life, head first, feet first, arms flailing but determined. Determined to give it a go. To push myself out of my comfort zone. To be the girl that’s prepared to swallow her pride and take a swimming lesson from her children. To be the girl that doesn’t think it’s too late to try something new. Just to live! Give it a whirl, even if I fail.
I took my swimming exam two days before we returned home. I had to demonstrate front crawl, breast stroke, back stroke, butterfly and dolphin strokes. I had to dive for six weights that had been distributed across the pool floor. I had to answer 10 swimming-related questions and lastly I had to jump in at the deep end and swim underwater.
And guess what? I passed….with a ‘distinction’ no less! I truly thought my heart was going to burst with delight. What a beautiful thing I had experienced. Being taught to swim by my 9-year old and 11-year old was without a doubt the highlight of our amazing Tuscan adventure. I had planned out our sightseeing days out for months in advance and we visited some stunning places – Florence, Siena, Lucca, Volterra to name but a few. They were magnificent. Yet, if I had to pick out one thing that was the shining glory of our two weeks in Italy, it was the time spent in the pool with my children and husband. I was beyond happy to be able to duck and dive with them, to have family swimming races, to hold hands and make a huge splash as we ran and jumped in together. It was precious.
We went swimming in our local indoor pool last week. There was no sunshine, in fact the rain was bouncing off the streets outside. There were no cicadas or sun-loungers, no lilos or giant doughnut rubber rings to laze on. But there we were, splashing around and swimming together. Again, the joy welled up in my heart as I enjoyed being the girl from my dream.