Monday, December 16, 2013

I'm Not Little, and I'm Not a Mermaid. But Still...

I love to swim.  I have always loved to swim.  I love water in general; I love lakes and ponds, rivers, the ocean, and above all, swimming pools.  I didn't learn to swim until I was about 9 or 10, though, and I guess I can thank my dad for "teaching" me by always threatening to come with us to the lake and throw me in off the dock.  So I taught myself.  Then I realized, the answer to that age-old childhood question of "what animal would YOU be?", for me, was without doubt:  a fish.  (But I'd have to be a shark or a whale, because of course smaller fish just get eaten in that whole circle of life thing, and I'd just want to SWIM without that whole hassle, so, yeah--shark, definitely.)
 Remember how awesome this was?
After I learned to swim, we spent what seemed like every summer afternoon at our local lake.  I was always that kid who would stay and play in the water until the sun literally went down.  "I can't get out, Mom--I'm a mermaid!"  Not even Doritos Nacho Cheese chips could lure me onto the beach, which is saying a lot, because we were a hippy family who mostly consumed stuff like wheat germ and garbanzo beans.  Oh, and Brewer's yeast (what the HECK what that all about?).  Even Nacho Cheese wasn't enough to get me out--I was a mermaid, and mermaids don't eat chips. 
No time for Doritos, Mom--I'm a mermaid!
Then I grew up, but on the inside, I was pretty much still that mermaid. 

We put up a 24' round pool for a few years when we lived in southern Oregon, and I swam twice a day, pretty much every day.  It was heaven.  My very own pool, just for me.  And no one cared if I did handstands and underwater backflips, even if I was a 28-year-old mother of two...It ended when a big wind came through one year when it was half-empty for the season, and blew it literally inside out and crushed it, while I watched in horror from the dining room, and that was that.

Next we moved back to the inland northwest, where it is cold way too much, and the lakes here, while plentiful, are also pretty much MELTED ICE WATER, all year.  I got an earache last time I went underwater at a lake here, in August.  So I decided, if I wanted to swim again and not suffer ear infections in August, I needed to find a pool.  Which, if you're a grownup, and unfortunately I am, means joining (dun-dun-dunnnn) a gym


I don't like gyms.  I don't like memberships.  I don't like crowds.  Or locker rooms.  Or crowds IN locker rooms.  But I really missed swimming, so about 5 years ago (this was before I sank out of sight into wedding cake madness), I bit my lip (and my fear of nearly-to-completely naked chatty people), and I joined a gym.  I swam as often as I could, but between the pool's open lane schedule and my kids' schedules, trying to arrange a time to swim laps got so complicated that I was going once a week, if that, so I quit.

I still missed it, though, and it hasn't turned tropical here yet, since global warming isn't working out quite the way I'd hoped, so I decided to join another gym that has a giant pool that, so I hear, is easy to get into and always available. 
This is what I wish for, when I hear "pool"...
Unfortunately, we live in a fairly busy area, and pretty much every person in this county has a membership at this gym.  Fortunately for me, most of them seem to just like to work out with weights or on those machine things (I don't get it.  I'm like:  Guys! There's a POOL).  Even so, when I walk in, it usually looks more like this:
only less splashy...
But mermaids in sight.  And no one who looks like they're having FUN there.  Just lots of serious-looking swimmers.  Swimming. 
What??  People, it's WATER! Why so serious??
They don't get it, and I don't ask them.  So I find what is usually the last open lane in the whole pool, put on that stupid thing to cover my hair (which I'd rather let loose), and goggles--OK, yes, THOSE are very cool, because you can SEE underwater, even though mine fog up, because I'm a dork and probably don't know the secret to keeping them clear AND keeping the water out of my eyes. 

I'm pretty sure I look exactly like this:
except without the tattoos of course...
But unfortunately, reality is more like this:
Mind if I join you? Let me just hang up my cape-
There are two lifeguards there, and I think, that must be the most boring job in the whole entire world EVER.  They sit there and watch people swim, who know how to swim.  Who's going to get in trouble out here?  It's also weird to swim with people watching.  I just like to swim however I want, but I'm pretty sure they're watching me and making signals to each other like--"OMG she has no form.  What is that? What is she doing right now? That is not how grownups swim.  Doesn't she know this is the competition pool?"  When I see a lifeguard walking around the pool, I'm always sort of half-sure they're coming to tell me I should go swim in the kid pool if I'm not going to take my swimming seriously...and I'm half tempted to go there anyway.  It looks like more fun.
I'd rather be here...
But, I'm a grownup swimmer, and this is where WE swim, so I gratefully get in.  I'm just glad to have some water to myself. 
A whole lovely lane of sparkly, bright blue water, just for me...

I remind myself that I'm here to swim.  So I swim laps, but on the inside, I'm like this:

I try to be serious.  I look to my left, and there's this guy...
Then I look to my right, and see this guy:
Training for the 2014 Olympics, obviously...

So I try to focus on my form.  I feel the water gliding over me and around me.  I want to be under the water, where it's quiet and mystical and sparkly blue, but I also need to work out, because I'm pretty sure mermaids don't have body fat, so I tell myself to concentrate on the feel of my muscles stretching and propelling me through the water.  I get my wind up, so I'm getting a work out (because it's a GYM people--you must work on cardio here; we don't come here to mess around, and we certainly don't come here to work on underwater handstands).  I try to work on breathing, so I will look as effortless and graceful as real swimmers, like her:

Instead I am usually just happy I didn't actually suck in water and have a coughing fit in the middle of the pool, and I end up looking more like this:
I'm fine.  Really.

I occasionally stop and float along on my back, because I feel like it (and possibly to catch my breath), dreamily paddling along and daydreaming at the ceiling, but I stop short of underwater backflips, because--well--I'm too old for that.  And I don't want the lifeguards to have to get all the way out of their chairs to see if I'm OK. 

Besides, if you go to a pool and see a 43-year-old woman (who should be working out, because yes, she's got some weight to lose) doing underwater backflips, you're going to want to choose a lane not next to the water freak.  Why is that, I wonder?  Maybe people are worried I'll ask them to throw a coin for me to go find or something...

I guess I need to win the lottery and build my own indoor pool, and then I can swim in it any way I please.

So I swim laps, and I watch the clock, and I get my wind up, and I feel toned and sleek (ha), and I get out and nod at the other gym-goers like, "Hello, fellow grownup," but the whole time, I'm still wondering, why can't I just enjoy swimming?

What is it about growing up, that takes away the magic of THIS?

I think next time, I'm going to try the slide.  I bet I can get at least one ride in before they kick me out.  Or maybe I'll pretend to be a shark and remind this guy that swimming is supposed to be fun.


  1. Okay...where'd my comment go? It was brilliant!!

    well..maybe not brilliant..maybe it was just goading you into doing those backflips...lifeguard be damned.

    1. I should, shouldn't I? Pretty sure I could just send the lifeguard to the corner for a time out anyway--plus, the sign says no DIVING. Doesn't say anything about backflips...

  2. Splash splash splashing-ly great piece! I'm with you about swimming in lanes, but I do it Tuesday and Thursday mornings in Shanghai 6:55-7:35 with our school teacher team called the Barracougars. Coach George, former Greek Olympic swimmer and SAS's head coach, shouts instructions: warmup is 200 free, 100 breast; then 8 25's: 4 pool buoy, 4 swim; 4 75s: kickboard, swim; etc. until the very end. My reward is swimming on my own for 5-10 minutes since I don't have a homeroom, counting laps as "Ned - Tristan - Reid -Patrick." I always feel like a super breaststroker or butterfly when I swim with 'Reid' ~ more fun than counting laps, but not quite a MERMAID ~~~P.S. The trick with goggles is to buy the best-rated on Amazon. No fog, no kidding! xoxo Aunt Patty

    1. Hi Patty! Fogless goggles sound amazing! I love that you swim too, and how you name the laps :)