Sink or Swim

I’m going to tell you a secret, and please don’t laugh at me.

For years, I just couldn’t swim. I didn’t know how.

sink or swim

Yup. I mean, sure, I could swim the back stroke, more or less, and I knew how to float, and could tread water – for about a minute. And I LOVED being in the water.

But then I would watch others swim lap after lap, tirelessly. And I was jealous. I wanted to swim just like them. I just didn’t know how.

I took regular lessons as a kid, and my mother even took me week after week for private 1-on-1 lessons with a fantastic teacher, sitting next to the pool during each lesson.

I just couldn’t figure it out.

Eventually, the pool became something that I avoided. I was embarrassed about my lack of ability to swim while I was in high school and so I avoided swim class as often as I could, using every excuse imagineable. I was relieved that at sleepover camp we swam in a lake, which meant strictly games and no laps.

Another opportunity presented itself when it turned out there was a pool near where we lived in Yerushalayim, which many of my friends went to. I chose not to go, using the excuse that it was just too expensive.

I was avoiding the real reason why I didn’t want to go.

Why should I invest a nice chunk of change into something that I’m not good at? Just to splash in the water? I can’t swim anyway, right?

When we moved here to Karmiel, we were pleasantly surprised, being a primarily secular city and all, that each summer they open up the community pool with separate hours for men and women. Inconveniently, however, the hours are once a week at night. I can’t exercise that late at night, I thought to myself, and besides, it’s probably too expensive.

So I never went swimming here in Karmiel.

That all changed when, before Pesach, my son came home from school with a pamphlet advertising the upcoming summer schedule with the separate swimming hours. The pamphlet raised a discussion, and my husband and I decided that it’s important to take our son swimming. It would be a great opportunity for father-son bonding, it’s an important skill for kids to have, and it’s a mitzvah for a father to teach his son to swim.

The point of discussion shifted and became: should we buy a “couple pass”, allowing just father and son to go swimming, or a “family pass”, allowing me to go swimming, too? Even though I’m not much of a swimmer, the price difference wasn’t too significant, and if I went swimming just a handful of times over the summer it would be worth it.

At that price, I could go swimming even if it was just for the fun of it. No need to think about exercise. It would be an opportunity to have a lady’s night out at the pool with my friends.

Imagine my disappointment when I got to the pool and saw some pre-teens shrieking with joy while playing in the water, a group of mothers shmoozing on the deck, and the rest of the women swimming laps!

Swimming. Laps. Where was all the fun for me? It looked like I was going to have to reluctantly join them if I was going to have any fun in the water tonight.

I meekly slipped into the pool and started doing the one stroke I actually knew well — back stroke. I did about 10 laps, pleasantly surprised with my stamina. I could do this!

Then I caught a glimpse of the other women swimming. Gulp. Women many years older than I, swimming strokes I had tried many times before, and still hadn’t come anywhere close to figuring out.

I started to panic. I can’t do this. Swimming just isn’t for me. I will always be that kid who can’t figure it out.

Rena, snap out of this negative thinking! You can do this.

I pulled it together.

It was time to make a choice. In the past, I would have gone back to swimming the back stroke.

This time, I was going to be bold and brave. It was time to grow up.

I waited until one woman, about double my age, finished her lap, and then humbly asked her if she could show me how she breathed while swimming the breaststroke.

Yup, breathing. I couldn’t figure out how to breathe while swimming.

She swam one lap, paid close attention to how she breathed, and then showed me exactly how she did it.

I thanked her, and prepared myself to give it a try.

I started swimming the breaststroke. I tried breathing like she showed me how.

I swam about 1/3 of the lap before I was totally winded and needed to take a break.

I wasn’t getting it.

I forced myself to keep trying.

This time I managed to swim about 1/2 of the lap.

The next time 3/4 of the lap.

And on my fourth time, I finally got it! I swam the entire lap without needing to stop to rest! I had mastered it. Sort of.

I continued swimming, alternating the back stroke and breaststroke, feeling very accomplished and like I had mastered something very big.

I’m far from a pro at the breaststroke, and I still need to ask for help from the other women in the pool, who are gracious with their time and pretty good teachers.

I am, however, becoming a pro at tuning in to my imperfections and realizing where I can use the help of others to help propel me forward.

What areas in your life do you need to tune into? What help can you seek out from others? What have you tried, unsuccessfully, that it’s time to try again? Where do you feel stuck? Comment below.

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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

May 5, 2015 at 3:56 pm

WOW!!! Thank you for that! I am too love the water… I always had, but unfortunately don’t really know how to swim, I’m probably even worse than you are/ were… I had one teacher during childhood whom was a terrible teacher and I learned nothing. Because I am bold and love taking chances (“or just look brave”) I wil always jump to the deep end and fake it. But was embarrassed of the fact that I can’t swim, and that a toddler can probably swim better than me… And asking a stranger or even a friend at the pool or beach to teach me was not even in the picture even though I’ve always fantasize it. I was just too embarrassed. This post gave me the undos ration to “stand tall” to my short coming/ struggles/ imperfections, not just swimming, be brave and ask for help, and conquer them! Thank you

May 5, 2015 at 4:31 pm
– In reply to: Shulamit

You are so welcome! I love this! Keep me posted on your progress – I’d love to hear.

May 5, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Yup, that’s the way to do it. Not be embarrassed and learn. PS. I also don’ty like to swim laps. I don’t think I do the strokes well and I find it boring. But I am also not interested in learning how to do it well.

May 6, 2015 at 7:07 pm

What a relief! Looks like we’re not alone. It’s like reading my life’s story. I love that you sought direction and guidance from the other women in the pool! That was brave. Asking for help is hard but sooo crucial to a satifactory life!

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