Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rediscovering My Inner Swimmer

After the birth of a baby, a new mother finds herself so busy that she can't keep up with the activities she enjoyed as a childless woman. The gym visits, the trolling of Saturday morning yard sales, the book group -- they all fall by the wayside. It might be quite some time before she "gets her life back," or perhaps her husband, partner, mother, or sister pitch in with free child care so she can resume these activities that formerly made her happy.

But if you are like me -- a single mother by choice with no built-in support network (i.e. immediate family) to offer you help you don't have to pay for -- it will likely be much longer before you can feel like your old adult self again. Of course, if you have deep pockets then all bets are off. You can do what you want when you want to do it. But come on! Who among us can really afford that?

The reality is: whether you are married, partnered, or completely on your own, you probably have not been able to take back up most of your favorite hobbies . . . unless your children are old enough to be fairly independent and to not need you to help them with the basics, such as driving them places, making all their meals, picking out all their clothes at the store, etc. Even when your kids are older, however, your "me time" will be limited by needing to attend their sports competitions, dance recitals, and other events.

It is a juggling act, to be sure -- a matter of finding balance and a seemingly neverending battle to try to reclaim the aspects of your childless life that you've (hopefully, only temporarily) lost.

For me, getting back my life has been a very gradual process . . . and I am not nearly done. But I am thrilled to say that this summer, at age fifty, I have awoken a part of myself that has lain dormant for far too long: I have rediscovered my inner swimmer.

It came about in the most surprising way. My oldest son had an audition for "Grown Ups 2," the Adam Sandler comedy now filming, at a community center in a town nearby. Afterward I was given a three-day family pass to the center, which happens to house terrific sports facilities including a large outdoor pool with two lap lanes. Since I had canceled my membership at a very costly athletic club in my town several months earlier, I was excited to have the opportunity to use another facility's amenities without charge. So, following the audition, we walked straight over to the pool to check it out. As I expected to hit the beach later that day, I had brought along the boys's swim trunks. No surprise, they were eager to go in the pool immediately. I couldn't say no since I had just been handed the pass. But having forgotten my own suit, I was forced to sit and watch while they played in the water for HOURS.

I was psyched to have access to this pool (well, only three times) yet miserable not to be able to enjoy it that day myself. SO miserable, in fact, that I didn't think twice about driving another seventy-four minutes round trip the very next day . . . because I needed a swim in that pool so badly!

I haven't looked back since. After using up the pass, I finagled a tour of the whole community center with Christopher while Charlie attended a birthday party some twenty minutes away. Lo and behold, didn't I score another three-day family pass! With each subsequent visit, my desire to swim in that pool increased exponentially. It was like dating a new, exciting man: I was becoming very attached to that pool and wanted more and more of it.

I was fairly out of shape when I first slipped into the second lane, having only recently exercised by means of walking to and from the elementary school where the boys' day camp is located, hiking and mountain climbing only occasionally, and canoeing just once. Still, I swam 14 consecutive lengths that day. I felt winded but immensely gratified. (For the record, I am now up to doing thirty-four lengths at once at a pretty good clip. Watch out Missy Franklin!)

Swimming laps outdoors for free is a luxury I have not enjoyed consistently since I was a child growing up in Darien, Connecticut, at a beach and tennis club on Long Island Sound. As a member of the swim team (and tennis team), I wasn't crazy about practices. However, I loved to race and just be in the water -- particularly in the club's outdoor pool -- doing dolphin dives, handstands, and bobbing up and down pushing off the bottom.

Does that make me a pool snob? I suppose it does . . . because indoor lap pools just don't cut it for me, though I have tested out the community center's indoor pool and liked it quite a bit. (That's a promising sign for my post-Labor Day lap swimming.)

I raced all the way through high school and seriously considered joining the team in college but decided against it in the end because I went to school in Vermont and didn't care to be cold and wet all the time in those harsh winters. (Wimp, right?!) Instead, I became a lifeguard --occasionally at the college pool and regularly during my college summers at the outdoor pool of a ritzy Southampton, Long Island, beach club.

While traveling in 1990, I learned how to scuba dive and later became certified as an advanced diver -- racking up dives in Southeast Asia, Australia, islands in the South Pacific, Florida, Mexico, Cozumel, and the Caribbean. Being a good swimmer has made me feel confident in ponds, lakes, and the ocean (handy since I live in a seaside town); while sailboarding (I owned the original Windsurfer One Design); jet skiing; sailing, which I learned at the Darien Y as a child; slalom waterskiing and canoeing, picked up at sleepaway camp in Maine; and sea kayaking, taught to me by a dear, now-deceased friend when I lived in Seattle. (I presently own a small, flat-water kayak).

Indeed, swimming has served me extremely well over the years. And now, having joined the reasonably priced community center after my second three-day family pass got used up, I have returned to my roots: outdoor-pool lap swimming.

And I couldn't be happier about it.

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