Lane 5 Rumination, aka 11:30 Lap Swim

“I saw you in there, I knew it was you by the long arms,” says my lifeguard friend when I go gather up my kid after his lesson, both of us dripping wet.

I have Sunday mornings figured out. Lap swim starts at 11:30. Jack’s swim lesson is noon-12:30. I leave the house first, start my laps and my husband brings Jack to the pool. I swim for my hour and gather Jack up at 12:30. Super efficient and happy all around.

Swimming for me is my great equalizer. I’m not really sure what that means, but it’s what I need the most. I love the bubbles, the breathing, all the blue. The bottom of the pool is blue, the tiles are blue, the flags and lane lines are blue. My favorite is the underwater lights that come from purplish portholes glowing from the sides of the pool. You look at them underwater and everything is undulating, suspended, in blue and purple light. Everything’s muted and silent, just your own bubbles and a kicker approaching in lane 4.

I love the bubbles, the breathing, all the blue. The bottom of the pool is blue, the tiles are blue, the flags and lane lines are blue. My favorite is the underwater lights that come from purplish portholes glowing from the sides of the pool. You look at them underwater and everything is undulating, suspended, in blue and purple light

Swimming for me is a lot like dancing. I think swimmers’ movements, beyond ballet dancers’, are the most beautiful. I love the kicking, the swaying from side to side, the flipping.

Lucky for me, my mom taught us how to swim at West Meadow Beach. Which was unlikely because she couldn’t swim herself. She grew up in a small apartment in the Bronx. Catholic school, parish dinners and just my grandmother raising three girls because death came too soon for my mom’s father. It’s a pain I’ve always seen when his name comes up. Edward, he went by Ned.

My grandmother made mom, Betty and Claire play jacks on the bathroom tiles, so as not to disturb the downstairs neighbors by playing on wood. They’d take the subway to Orchard Beach occasionally, but she just didn’t have the access like we did. She taught all of us on instinct, standing knee-deep at West Meadow, telling us to put our face in the water and turn our heads, turn. She’d hold our small waists and tell us, kick your legs, kick. Windmill arms.

She taught us the crawl stroke, the sidestroke and how to float. My best stroke is crawl of course and I’m decent at breaststroke and backstroke. When I rest in sidestroke I hear, “Catch a cherry and put it in your pocket.” Totally works and it’s a sweet little way to get across the pool.

She taught all of us on instinct, standing knee-deep at West Meadow, telling us to put our face in the water and turn our heads, turn. She’d hold our small waists and tell us, kick your legs, kick. Windmill arms.

She taught us the crawl stroke, the sidestroke and how to float. My best stroke is crawl of course and I’m decent at breaststroke and backstroke. When I rest in sidestroke I hear, “Catch a cherry and put it in your pocket.”

The pool is such a microcosm. There are always babies and old people, and people with disabilities are welcomed at pools. There’s one woman I see. She moves from the locker room to the pool slowly, in silence. I say hi to her, but — actually, maybe she’s deaf. She doesn’t acknowledge me when I smile at her. She’s kind of a mystery. Very independent. I know the Access Bus picks her up. I’m glad she has somewhere to come in America where she’s safe and can float in the pool for 45 minutes and forget her everyday worries. Because you always feel better after you get out of the pool. Famished, yes, and just better. I hope it’s the same for her, I’m sure it is.

A few years ago, I had a debt to pay. A pool-related debt. In 10th grade, I took the lifeguarding class at the Huntington YMCA. I knew two kids in the class from school and we used to smoke cigarettes after class. This was in my anti-time. I was anti-a lot. Mad at a lot of things. My parents divorce wreaked a little havoc on me, school was a bore and all of us were getting high as much as possible. I had quit ballet and playing flute was becoming a joke. I just applied myself to nothing.

I didn’t pass the lifeguard test. Which was dumb because I had the skills. I just messed it up. It always bothered me I failed that test, so I became a lifeguard as an adult and taught swimming to young kids for a few years as a side job. I really loved it. Just the sights of the pool and the whiff of chlorine relaxes me. I guess water’s my natural element.

So it’s great for me to make it a habit and do laps for an hour. I just “keep going” as the Northport Yacht Club coach used to holler at my friends on swim team. I feel healthy and toned when I get out. And hungry.

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Scavenger Hunt

Last week was Jack’s 12th birthday party and we had the best scavenger hunt ever. We put clues outside and inside this year, just to jazz it up. It’s a tradition for us to have a scavenger hunt at his party. We did our first in Carkeek Park when he turned six. I remember hiding the clues in the little bear statue by the playground, under the salmon slide, all that. That’s the year I probably bought the two green baskets that hold the goodie bag prizes at the end.

We’ve kind of perfected the hunt. We split the kids into two teams, the green team and the yellow team. Green team looks for green envelopes, yellow team looks for yellow envelopes. Each team has one adult leader who helps the group along if they get stuck. They also end up holding all the papers. My friend Leslie, who’s very bubbly, makes a great leader. Our babysitter came to help at the party and she was our other leader.

I gave both of them a few rules to go over with the kids before they start. Picture two groups of seven kids clustered together, looking up to the leader, getting a little breathless with anticipation. The leader says:

  • Everyone takes a turn reading the clues.
  • We are a TEAM!
  • No hogging!
  • HAVE FUN!

The first rule is important because our parties mix a bunch of special needs kids with typically developing kids, and the faster kids get so excited they just want to race through it. But the special needs kids need more time and the group needs to all be on the same page at the start. The point is we stick together.

The first rule is important because our parties mix a bunch of special needs kids with typically developing kids, and the faster kids get so excited they just want to race through it. But the special needs kids need more time and the group needs to all be on the same page at the start. The point is we stick together. And then you see them doing beautifully sharing, it’s great to see.

My husband came up with my favorite clue this year: I can open almost anything because I have 88 keys! Yup, that clue was in the piano, under the lid, right on top of the keys.

He also came up with writing a clue backwards, so to get to that one, we said: Find a room with four mirrors and read your next clue backwards! That one was in our guest room and they liked that.

My favorite clue led the kids reaching to the branch of the giant pine tree next door. But that’s just because I’m a tree girl.

We did a sing-along this year too. Jack likes Frozen, and he wanted me to add Let It Go to my playlist. So I got the guitar chords and learned the song. It’s actually kind of fun to play. At the party, I handed out the lyrics, and his best girlfriend, as she tapped her forefinger to the top of her head, said, “Got it in here.” Yeah, the girls all know that song.

So things are good. Jack goes into middle school in September and we really like the teacher he’ll have. I filled out my Hedgebrook application so fingers crossed I’m chosen and I’ll live in a cabin in the woods for two weeks writing (yar). And next year I’ll apply for a WA state arts grant.

Jack goes into middle school in September and we really like the teacher he’ll have. I filled out my Hedgebrook application so fingers crossed I’m chosen and I’ll live in a cabin in the woods for two weeks writing (yar).

And now we have the Olympics! I love them. The swimmers with their gorgeous triangle bodies flying down the lanes are just my favorite. Since I’m back in the pool now (where I belong, as my mom says) I appreciate the swimming even more.

So hoo-rah for summer. In Seattle, you gotta grab these sunny days and ride them all the way till dark. Cuz the rain comes back pretty fast. Next week is a hike with our good friends. At the end of August Jack shows his dog at Fair and earns beautiful ribbons and pins. Good balance to life. As my old friend Saxophone Dave used to say…in our early sobriety, keepin’ gratitude in my attitude.