My mother is amazing. Among her many great qualities is a sense of adventure and a constant openness to learning new things. She is afraid of nothing. And even if she has some initial hesitation, she can usually be persuaded to try. She’s always game.
After some 20+ years of participating in water fitness for exercise, she decided to take up lap swimming at the age of 72. I accompanied her to the local Y where I had worked on and off for 12 years through high school, college, and beyond. We stroked, swam, talked about breathing and body roll, and discussed, perhaps for too long, the difference between a “lap” and a “length”.
I have said before that I owe much of my life to swimming. So many opportunities for work and play were available to me just because I knew how to swim. But really, I owe even that to my mom. Mothers are the great household decision makers. The problem solvers. The organizers and prioritizers. They are our first educators and our constant cheerleaders. They are also forever our lifeguards. If you ask children what a mother’s job is—as I have hundreds of times over years of giving water safety presentations—they will answer, “to keep us safe.”
I’m sure that’s why I don’t remember not knowing how to swim. She made sure it was one of my first activities. In fact, when my mother enrolled me in a stroke development class, I could not understand why I needed formal instruction. “But I already know how to swim!” I argued. My mother never relented. Swimming in our house was not a negotiation. It’s a life skill, we were told. We didn’t have to make it our “sport” or even like it, but we had to know how to do it well, because without it, we could die. End of discussion. Now go get your suit on. (Insert eye-roll here.)
And so what started out as a safety measure turned into hours of her life on bleachers in hot stuffy rooms that smelled of chloramines. She waved, cheered, packed the snacks, and drove long distances to exhaust whole days at swim meets. What I didn’t know then was that neither of my parents would ever describe themselves as good swimmers. Like many of their generation, they sacrificed to give their kids what they themselves didn’t have growing up. So when my mom asked me to check out her stroke, it was an invitation to share what she had spent years making sure I knew. Teaching my mom to swim was my payback on her investment. And it was an honor.
My mother will always be concerned for my safety, in or out of the water. But now when we talk swimming, it’s about her accomplishments and not mine. She occasionally calls to report her workout in yards (that’s how we solved the lap vs. length challenge), and I always tell her I’m proud of her. I’m proud of her because she takes up new things at her age like it’s nothing. And because she has enough humility to learn from her children. And because, with practice, she’s really become quite the strong and fluid swimmer. You go, mom. Hope you swim circles around those ladies at the Y.