Fool in the pool
Parenting is a never-ending series of ups and downs. Like a rollercoaster with no end in sight, we’re buckled in and along for the ride whether we like it or not.
Watching my daughter learn to do new things has been emotional. To see her read with confidence, solve simple algebra problems, control a pony and memorize a dance routine makes me proud, but I can’t help shaking my head in disbelief.
But perhaps nothing has been more incredible to me than watching her learn to swim, especially considering I am a terrible swimmer. She was cautious but brave, with a healthy respect for the water but a need to master it and dive with the big dogs in the pool.
The day I saw her take her first foray in the deep end was a day I’ll never forget. She had just turned 5 and we were in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. She clung to the edge of the pool in the deep end of the pool, and motioned for me to move away. I was treading water, and wasn’t going anywhere.
“This is the deep end, honey,” I said with a laugh. “You can’t play here without your life jacket. The water is over your head.”
Again, she waved me back, so I moved back a bit.
“More,” she said, hands shooing me away. “Go back.”
So I swam way back and waited to see what would happen next, assuming I could get to her before she went to the bottom. But nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. She pushed off the edge of the pool and doggie paddled straight to me, her lips clenched tightly together and her nostrils wide.
Once she reached me, I embraced her tight.
“Lizzie! You can swim!!” I cheered. She giggled and grinned, loving my surprised reaction.
“OK, let go,” she said, and then pushed off against my torso and swam back to the edge of the pool, probably a distance of 6 or 7 feet.
“UNBELIEVABLE!” I shouted like a sports announcer, hands over my head, looking around for witnesses. An older lady in a bathing cap had the misfortune of swimming laps near me. She turned her head to see what all the commotion was about, and I said, “My daughter just swam for the first time. EVER!”
She smiled and nodded, looking a bit confused.
“Right here. She’s right here!” I said, pointing at my girl, who still clung to the side of the pool.
“I no speak English,” the woman said, adding something about being from Germany.
“That’s OK!” I said, with the same enthusiastic tone. Then I pointed at Lizzie and started to gesticulate wildly. “Kiddo! Swimmo!”
Grinning from ear to ear, I nodded in earnest, while making swimming motions. Then I held up one finger.
“First time!” I said, nodding even more vigorously, as if to force her to acknowledge my momentous news.
“Ah,” she said, raising her eyebrows. She smiled and nodded ever-so-slowly as she backed away from us.
Spying my friends across the pool, I called, “Did you SEE that?!” They had. My cheering section gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up and clapped silently. I was in heaven.
The only upsetting part was that my husband was not there to share the moment. And I wasn’t exactly sure how to break the news when we returned home. I thought about how I would feel if Elizabeth had started swimming when I was nowhere in sight. I’d feel terrible to have missed it, I decided.
So I conspired with my daughter to keep her swimming a secret. I made her promise not to breathe a word of it to her dad. Instead, she would unveil her mad swimming skills at a family pool party the following week. It was settled. My friends also were sworn to secrecy.
The next weekend, we gathered poolside at my mom’s house, and I coached Lizzie on the sidelines.
“So, here’s the plan,” I said. “When everyone gets here, you get into the water and tell Daddy to back up. Do just what you did with me. And when he does it, you surprise him by swimming right to him in the deep end, OK?”
She agreed. We had a plan.
It wasn’t long before everyone was sunning, chatting and floating on inflatables nearby. Tim got in the pool, and encouraged Lizzie to jump into the shallow end. She did, and just as we had planned, she asked him to go into deep water. Without question, he did it.
“Hey, everybody,” I called out casually. “Watch this.”
My siblings, nieces and nephews all turned to look, as Elizabeth swam from the shallow end into the deep end where her dad waited. He scooped her up with a casual, “Good job.”
Good job? Seriously? Good job?!
“Oh my gosh, she can swim!” I said, feigning surprise. “Isn’t that amazing?! Lizzie, you can swim!”
My husband looked sheepish.
“Actually, she started doing that a few weeks ago. She did it that day when we were at Pemaquid Beach, but I didn’t want you to feel bad,” he admitted. “I told her not to say anything.”
So I’d been had. My eyes narrowed and I looked from my horrible hubby to my duplicitous daughter. She just shrugged.
And the beat goes on.