In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Sink or Swim.”
Learning to swim takes a certain amount of preparation and practice. There are basics that must be taught to ready one to venture past the wading stage, past the buoyed line to the teetering floating dock anchored firmly in the murk below.
It was my during my 5th year that I learned to swim. Weeks 1 and 2 were easy enough. I was taught to dip my face into the water while holding my breath. At first for only a few seconds and then eventually for an entire 10 seconds. This skill required a considerable amount of home practice. I plopped myself in front of my dresser mirror, holding my breath with eyes bulging, while counting to 10 (in my head of course, because I was holding my breath). I remember feeling the heat of anxiety flush my neck to my ears to my cheeks as the count neared 10, finally bursting with hot breath when I was finally allowed to exhale.
At the beginning of class on week 3, I proudly passed the 10 second test. The next lesson would prove to be a bit more challenging. I would learn the art of floating in just enough water to support my rigid body but close enough to the sandy bottom to catch my rear when my waist buckled. I spend the entire hour, stiffening my body on the surface, buckling and sinking to the bottom in a thump, until I finally realized I was trying too hard. Once I allowed myself to relax into the water a bit, I floated!
I spent week 4 and 5 home, sick. When the sixth week arrived and I walked to the water’s edge to join my class, I was excited to find that we had props in the form of paddle boards. After studying everyone else as they launched from the shore, I figured out how to propel myself by kicking my feet while holding the board just under my chest. Our destination was the floating dock! I easily maneuvered my paddle board and arrived without lagging too far behind my classmates.
Once on the dock we were gathered around the instructor who told us we would have the chance to test what we had learned the previous week…treading water. Treading water? This was a new term, but I was confident that I would figure it out after watching a few of my classmates, just like I had mastered the paddle board. Except for one small problem. I was in the front, nearest to the instructor, who chose ME to go first!
Before I could get so much as a, “Wait! I missed the last few weeks of lessons. I don’t know what treading water is!” out of my mouth, I was hurling through the air toward the middle of the lake! I remembered as I hit the water to hold my breath (thank goodness for all the practice of week 1 and 2!) And as I plunged to the bottom, landing ankle deep in muck, I’m sure pure instincts kicked in as I started to kick my feet. Once free I remembered what I had learned about floating…to relax into it and my body slowly rose to the surface. But there was one more thing I needed to do to stay afloat, and I had not had the benefit of learning that lesson.
With my head just above the surface I managed to yell to the instructor, “What do I do now?” His reply was no help. “Tread Water like you learned last week.” With my feet still kicking before dropping completely below the surface I managed to respond, “I missed last week!” Then through the turbulent gurgles around my ears I heard the instructor say “Wave your arms!”
With feet kicking and arms waving I managed to resurface. The instructor had tossed my paddle board to me, and was getting ready to jump in after me when I shuttled myself over to the board and paddled my way back to the floating dock.
Some would say, I almost drowned that day. But I am an optimist. In fact, I learned to swim that day and I learned a few more things…that it is usually not a good idea to “fake it until you make it”, but if you insist on doing that, it is wise not to sit in the front (you need a bit of space and time to observe your peers if you are going to pull off the “faking it” part)…but the most important thing I learned was that I am a survivor.