Swimming Back to Myself

Whenever my husband, Tim, and I reminisce about activities we used to do B.C. (before children), one of the first to come up is swimming. I don’t mean splashing around in the shallow end playing “motorboat, motorboat,” or sitting on the pool deck and clapping during our kids’ swimming lessons (as much as I relish both of those activities). I mean getting in the water and swimming laps, hard enough that you elevate your heart rate and get that longed-for endorphin hit, the one that leaves you a much calmer and happier person than when you started.

I grew up around water, in an old stucco house in New Jersey, a block from the Atlantic Ocean. Summers, I spent every day fully immersed, riding waves for so many hours that when I finally emerged in late afternoon, the tips of my fingers were shriveled with waterlog, my throat raw from swallowing so much salt. As an adult in California, I signed up for swimming lessons to improve my stroke. For years, my practice was to swim on Tuesdays and Thursdays before work, a mile each morning to alternate with my other exercise. I’d show up to my office with my hair still wet, smelling of chlorine, alert and happy.

All that went by the wayside soon after Olivia arrived. By the time we adopted Mateo, I doubted whether I could make it from one end of the pool to another, much less finish 72 laps.  Like so many things, the ability to swim seemed part of someone I used to be in my former life, that person I no longer knew.

But during our recent trip to Guatemala, Olivia and I stayed in a hotel with a pool. And the deal we made was that if she cooperated with me and followed my agenda without too much complaint (lots of shopping for Guatemalan handicrafts, for example), then at the end of the day, we could spend an hour or two in the pool. Which we did. And somewhere during those sessions, I realized how much I longed to be in water, how much I craved to feel myself moving through it.

So this morning, after I dropped the kids off to school and before I started the rest of my day, I drove to the pool where I used to swim. I’m a lot slower than I used to be, and my stroke, never perfect, is far from smooth. But after a few shaky laps, I found my rhythm. My heart rate was elevated and steady, I felt those old endorphins kick in. Now, as I sit at my desk to write this, my fingertips are slightly shriveled, my hair smells like chlorine. This is the person I recognize. This is me, myself.

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