I’ve grown up in the water. Not like a paramecium or an eel but I have been swimming as long as I can remember. Sometimes it was in a public pool, crammed in among a hundred other kids all trying to outdo one another on the diving board, the tang of chlorine in your eyes and the steady scream of children a cacophony of summer senses that left you exhausted by lunchtime. Sometimes it was in the river, diving off a dock into green water that didn’t hint at the depth, leaving you gambling between sluicing through deep water or auguring your arms up to the elbow in sticky mud. On lucky occasions it was in the ocean, the tumble and whoosh of waves a giddy playground, and a reminder that from ankle-height in the water, a five foot wave looks terrifying.
Mostly, though, I swam in my Grandma’s backyard pool, a rectangle of patterned blue set in the ground with a concrete trough running along the back fence so water could be backwashed through the filters and out onto the street. There was a fenced-off area of inscrutable and menacing pump equipment, and in the winter the pool had a cover stretched taut with industrial-grade springs hooked into grommets set in the pavement, tempting one to think it was a trampoline but for the dire parental warnings. The impossibly long and bright summers in that pool were the most effervescent and striking in my memory, shards of emotion and imagery that I can call up at an instant: A multitude of ways for my cousins and siblings to hurl ourselves into the water, each eliciting cheers from the fans and warnings from the parents; the clapping sound of the plastic skimmer gate, applause for a large cannonball jump that sent foaming waves across the pool; the contrast of hot concrete and cool water when you sat on the pool’s edge, your rear end and feet spanning fifty degrees; the pellucid clarity and mirror finish of water in the calm of midday while we ate lunch on the screened porch, aching to go back in the water and deterred by the old wives’ tale of waiting an hour after eating.
I hope my kids have such fond memories of being in the water. We tried swimming lessons for Child Harbat but found it better just to spend a lot of time in our own pool, learning the play and joy of swimming before the regimented strokes. Every day in the pool my daughter is a bit better. First, hesitating by the steps, then making brief forays with a floatie, now crossing the pool with flippers and jumping in on her own. By summer’s end, when sunlight seems dim and we’re starting to think of sweaters and stews, she’ll be swimming like an otter. And she’ll make memories of her own.