Dog-Paddling Through Life

swimming pool

swimming pool (Photo credit: freefotouk)

When Hubby and I started looking for a new house, we decided early on to not purchase one with a swimming pool.  Not because we don’t like to swim (we do), but because of the upkeep involved.  We didn’t want to be tied down to one more thing that needed taking care of, we wanted our time to be our own.

What a crock.

Truth is, we don’t go much of anywhere or do much of anything.  With his travel schedule, the last thing he wants to do on his off hours is travel, and who can blame him?  (As for me, being the stay-at-home writer and — now — caretaker for my mother, I’d escape at almost a moment’s notice given the opportunity.)  We don’t have a huge circle of friends (although that might change if we had a pool, hmmm?), so much of our time is spent doing local day trips or hanging out at home.

We should have gotten the house with the pool.

We had a pool when I was growing up, an above-ground job that did the job adequately, purchased only after much argument from me.  Still not sure why Dad gave in.  He usually didn’t, but he must have figured out that he would enjoy it as much as me and my friends.  I’ve fond memories of that pool.  It was nothing grand and not even particularly big, but I had a good time splashing around in it with the Gaetano boys Mario and Joey, my best-bud David Miklas, and my down-street friends Debbie and David Hyde.

Getting the pool, though (and realizing we were spending two weeks of every summer in Maine at the LAKE), made my mother decide that swimming lessons were in my future.  She had learned to swim the hard way on that Maine lake — going out on a homemade raft only to have it break apart beneath her, forcing her to struggle toward shore or drown — and she didn’t want me to have a similar experience.  (Thanks, Ma.)  Hearing that Debbie and David’s mother had signed them up for swimming lessons at a local Y, she followed suit.

At first, it was great.  The instructors were friendly and easy to understand.  Before long, they had us swimming the width of the pool, back and forth, little arms and legs working, the bunch of us flailing like spastics.  It was fun, it was wet, and my pals were nearby.  A total win scenario.

Then came the day we graduated to THE DEEP END OF THE POOL.  Maybe I wasn’t paying attention (not unusual), but they never really explained what DEEP meant.  I was young enough that it’s possible I’d never encountered that word before.  Being a child who was encouraged to not question adults, I’m not sure I’d have asked for clarification.  At any rate, instead of introducing us gradually, having us hang onto the side of the pool and feel with our feet that there was no bottom to stand on, they lined us up along the edge and had us jump in.

I sank like a stone.

They hauled me from the bottom, panicked and terrified,  and deposited me on the side of the pool where I immediately sprinted for my mother’s side.  And there I remained.  From that point on, I refused to enter the water.  I no longer trusted those people.  My mother cajoled and pleaded, begged and threatened, but I was having none of it.  I didn’t give a fig that she’d already paid for the lessons and would lose the money, I was terrified to get back into the pool, to put my faith in strangers who had made such an awful error in judgment.   Mom dragged me to every lesson, hoping I’d change my mind, but I never did.  I waited patiently for Debbie and David to finish and then we all went home.  Why Mom didn’t make me get back in that pool, I’ll never know.  God knows she made me do a bunch of other things I didn’t want to.  She could have brought her suit and gotten in with me.  They could have started me out again in the shallow end.  There are probably dozens of solutions, but none were tried.  (Note:  she also never told the instructors what a bunch of clods they were.  My not swimming was my fault.)

But over the years, I’ve taught myself to be a fair swimmer.  I’ll never win any medals and my endurance is low, but I enjoy being in the water a great deal.  I’ve no Olympic style, relying mostly on breast stroke or swimming on my back, but I do okay, and I learned enough to not drown in the family pool or the lake in Maine.  (Then again, Mom usually had me so padded with floatation devices that I’d have survived the Great Flood.  I looked like a Weeble.)

The extent of my swimming these days is wading in the ocean or a local pond, or the occasional hotel pool.  Still, I’ve got this hankering.  It’s a good bet that we won’t stay in this house forever (we both feel that there’s at least one more move ahead of us, although we can’t say of it’s local or distant) and next time…well, let’s just say I’m going to think twice about that pool.


About Melissa Crandall

Longer ago than I care to admit--although I will--I cut my writing teeth on fanzines and media tie-in novels. Since then, I've moved on to narrative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and essays. I write to explore and understand the world around me, the things I see and experience nearby or from a distance. If I shake myself up, cool. If I shake you up, even better. Not gratuitously--what's the point in that?--but to set what I know, or think I know, on end and realize, "Well, doesn't it look different from this side!" My work is neither sexually explicit nor graphically violent. Let's face it - your imaginations will come up with things far worse than anything I could write, no matter how descriptive. Besides, it's just not my thing. I live in Connecticut with my supportive husband Ed, a cat named Ruby who might just think she's a dog, and an epileptic Australian shepherd named Holly who isn't quite certain anymore who she is, except she knows she loves her mommy.
This entry was posted in Childhood, Essays, Family, Life, Memoir, Swimming and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Dog-Paddling Through Life

  1. I never did learn how to swim and feel like I missed out on a lot of fun but I was just too afraid. I don’t remember my parents ever encouraging me either. Mum couldn’t swim but Dad was a swimming instructor when he was younger so you would think he’d have made an effort to teach me but he didn’t seem to have any patience with me. I’ve always envied people who can dive in and enjoy the water.

    • The only time it’s too late to do something, Sue, is when you’re dead. Find yourself a good, competent instructor, explain your childhood (and adult) fears and see if they can help you. They should be able to. And if you do happen to think you’re too (fill in the blank) to do it, well, I have a friend with CP who lives his life in a wheelchair and he not only goes horseback riding, he also sky-dives. Go for it! (And send pictures!)

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