Never learned to swim | Can’t catch the rhythm of the stroke | Why should I hold my breath | Feelin’ that I might chokeParliament
It wasn’t until I decided to jump into the deep end with my two youngest daughters and take swimming lessons that I found out I didn’t know nuffin’ ’bout swimming. Enough to play around in the water and get myself from one end of the pool to the other. Hit a few strokes. Scoop rings from the bottom. Jump in. Other than that, I was better skilled to drown than anything.
I’ve spent the last couple of months unlearning bad habits that came from the ‘hood lessons I got when my older cousins threw me into the water and yelled, “Kick, kick, kick—you’re gonna drown if you don’t kick,” and as I’m drinking up the public pool’s water, “Girl, hold your damned breath.”
Since day one, I’ve ticked off a litany of things nobody ever taught me about swimming.
- Nobody ever taught me about bobbing. All these years, I’d been doing things the hard way by holding my breath and coming up when I needed to get more air.
- Nobody taught me that treading in deep waters, while hard-ass work when you’re learning—and from what our instructor tells us, still challenging when you swim all the time, as she does—is less labor-intensive and makes more sense than what we called “dog paddling.”
- Nobody told me that I ain’t gotta always work hard to stay afloat in the water because I’m a natural floater and back floats are my default safety, as long as I remember to extend my neck and lift my hips, all of which now comes pretty naturally. I can back float all day long. Okay, okay, maybe I’m stretching the truth a little. But I can float for a long time. *giggling*
Speaking of learning and unlearning, before learning the art of the perfect back float, I rarely trusted my back to the waters. And back floats do require you to trust your back to the water. That “hey, bruh, if I fall back, you gonna catch me?” kind of trust.
Not everyone gets back floats right the first few tries, because of the trust factor otherwise known as FEAR. It’s natural for first-timers to fear being
submersed submerged on their backs. But to experience the freedom, relaxation and coolness of such a position, we must give ourselves up to the water’s depths, trusting and allowing it to carry us close to its surface, chin jutting skyward.
Changing courses here, I know I began by saying this was about the classes I’ve been taking along with my two youngest daughters, but the truth is I feel like I might be getting more from the classes than they are. Sure it’s been a fabulous way for us to further bond, but it’s been much more than that for me. There have been many times when I know I’ve had to work harder at it than they do, when I’ve doubted my ability more than they have doubted theirs. I’m quite sure it’s because I went into it with more self-defeating habits than they had, which meant I had to not only learn new skills, I had to disconnect my muscle memory and my mind from the old patterns.
And that’s what this is about. This is about acknowledging that even at 49, I don’t know it all and when it comes to some things—maybe even a lot of things—I still got some learning and unlearning to do. I can either eat my humble pie now or face the demon of it later. Perfection isn’t a special gift given to any of us. To grow inwardly and, thus, outwardly, we must be willing to give ourselves to new experiences, new challenges, NO MATTER our age.
For every new rotation we make around the sun, it pays to take an honest look at what we believe we know, what we do know, our behaviors and our vices, and decide what could use some unlearning and what might need to be learned or relearned, and then go about doing it. Better to know up front our default safety is defective than to have to find out when we need it to save ourselves. In the ever-relevant words of Parliament, can’t comprehend all the strokes. How true, how fitting. But if we learn them one at a time, we might have something.