I can fly.
It’s something that a surprising number of people cannot do, including Perfect Husband. Yet I have been able to do this for as long as I can remember… and longer. I have always been able to move this way.
I never needed wings to do it, as other children I knew did, and I scorned them for it. In fact, I actually managed to convince a friend of mine at age six that if she DID wear her wings, a monster would eat her. It’s impressive how well someone can actually fly when they put trust in themselves and stop clinging to their wings. (It’s also impressive how cruel children can be, but that’s a side point.)
I found freedom in flight. I could swoop, I could soar. I could somersault, and spin. The world stopped being the two dimensional plane on which we spend our lives, and I experienced the joy of true three dimensional motion. I loved to drop things, then dive down and catch them before they landed on terra firma. I discovered aerodynamics. I found that when I was moving at high speeds, a sudden banking of my arms could send me swooshing off in another direction. I found that tilting downwards would push me down, and that tilting upwards would push me up. Pointing straight up would bring me to a quick stall. Grade seven aerospace class was entirely without mystery to me. Of course that’s how planes work. How natural.
Moving on land is cumbersome. I would look up at the window I wanted to get to, and think about how much easier it would be to just bring my arms down and propel myself upwards effortlessly, rather than go in a door and up all those stairs. I dreamed of a world of windows, where everyone just landed on the sill after a few lazy kicks, instead of dragging their bodies up hills and stairs.
I must have been only about a year old when I began to learn how to fly. My parents were just moving to a new house, which had a glittering blue swimming pool, complete with diving board. They took immediate steps to prevent it becoming a death trap for their only child: baby swim classes.
I was still mastering the art of walking when I began swimming, and I took to it with just as much, if not more, alacrity. Fear the water? Why should I, when it gave me a freedom that I could never have on land? All I knew was that in the water, I could soar. My parents have pictures of me, barely three years old, leaping out into the wild blue yonder with carefree joy on my face.
When we moved to the Caribbean, I could swim 365 days of the year, including Christmas Day. My friend and I would go to the beach every Saturday afternoon, and often her father left us alone while he went windsurfing. There was no danger. When you grow up in the water, swimming is an effortless thing. Staying afloat took no more energy (in fact, less, it seemed) than standing up did. But I didn’t care about staying afloat. I wanted to dive.
My mother would take me to snorkeling, and wearing my mask, snorkel and flippers, I would spend hours among the coraline metropolis of the reef, stalking its jewel-like residents. I would dive among a glittering silver shoal of bar-jacks, trying to surround myself, watching them break apart around me every time I tried. I wanted to live in their cool blue world, darting and soaring, spinning and gliding effortlessly instead of plodding and sweating on the dusty, heavy ground above. But it was a world which I have been increasingly forced to live in.
We left the Caribbean and our house in Nova Scotia didn’t have a pool. I had to rely on the occasional outing to the local sports complex, if I could get someone to come with me. Hardly anyone else I knew could swim. Oh, they could probably all have kept themselves afloat. I hope their parents would have taught them that much. But paddling and struggling to maintain a back float… that is to swimming what the Wright brothers were to flying – a good start, but that’s it. So I went months, sometimes years, stuck to the ground.
The instincts never leave you. So many times, running late to a class, it seemed like I should be able to push off with my legs and dart off, as the crow flies, to my destination rather than plod along the sidewalk, huffing and puffing. The insipidity of air, its inability to carry my weight, is a constant frustration. It has become something I unquestioningly accept but continue to dislike, like menstruation and bra straps that slide down over one shoulder. I would almost forget what it was like to live without the weight of my body holding me down. Then I would slide into a pool and discover that weight lifted from me. I could fly.
One of the biggest selling point, in my opinion, of our new house was the swimming pool building not thirty feet from our front door. My doctor keeps strongly recommending exercise, like walking and jogging, because exercise is apparently great for depression. But I rejected these out of hand. The idea of having to walk or jog is inherently depressing, I think, because they are exhausting and jarring and very un-fun. However, swimming is excellent low-impact aerobics, and seems like an ideal solution for everybody. I’d be happier, and I’d probably lose weight, too.
Except our damn pool key doesn’t work. We’re supposed to mail it to someone to get it reactivated and of course we haven’t done this. We’ve been planning on getting into that damn pool for two months now, but we will, OH we will… and then I will make my poor Perfect Husband swim, even though he swims like a polar bear paddles while I spin, laughing, out of his reach.
So why am I telling you all of this?
Because I’ve been researching the infant diving reflex, that’s why!
I saw a documentary about it once when I was a teenager, and we’ve all seen the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind which features a 3 month old baby swimming under water. I always wondered whether I would have the guts to actually try it with a real baby.
It turns out that people I know have actually tried this, and more and more swim programs are being made available to young babies. Because swimming allows for much more movement than on land, it works as the best tummy time ever, improving baby’s health, intelligence, even sleep patterns. The more I think about it, and the more I research this, the more I know I want to take my future children to the pool when they are babies.
I want them to grow up being able to fly.
I love this post.
I love swimming. I was what my mother called me a ‘water baby’ – I started young and took to it right away. My kids, on the other hand? Not water babies. A bathtub injury scared my daughter when she was very young and for five long years, she acted like we were dipping her in acid when we took her swimming, behaviour that naturally, rubbed off on her younger brother. It wasn’t until this year that they both realized that swimming is marvelous.
Which it truly is. I’m glad you persevered instead of letting them just be afraid forever.
My kids might have well been born in a desert. Swimming does not come naturally to them. So it’s slow learning. Small steps. But as they become less afraid of their own boyancy, the more they enjoy it. My nefews are like you.
Nicley written. I want to go for a swim.
This makes me wish I were a better swimmer.
Isaac is a like a dolphin – no fear. And a better swimmer at 4 than I was at 14. James is heading the same way. They only wish we could afford a bathtub the size of an Olympic swimming pool so they could practice more often.
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