Sunday, November 6, 2016

Redefining the Breast Stroke

For the past few weeks, Alison has been focused on her efforts to join the Herron High School swim team. She was two-years-old when she first started swim lessons and she's always loved the water, but she's never been trained for competition.

So I was concerned that she would be disappointed. The coach had said this would be the year the school would focus on true competition, so you had to really make the team. Ali supplemented her conditioning and practices with the school to trips to the gym where she worked on the strokes she'd been perfecting and/or learning.

I, of course, was her transportation and she'd ask me each time if I wanted to swim with her. I wanted to but as many of you know, I pay a lot for my hair and I didn't want to either diminish the sheen or encourage gray -- or green strands. So I worked out in the fitness area while she swam in the pool across the wall.

But I really wanted to swim with her and this week bought a swim cap so I could.

My own swim lessons started early, like Alison, but they were more a survival lesson than instruction from professional swimmers. My actual memories are sketchy, probably as a result of oxygen deprivation. My siblings told me the lessons started when they decided to build a boat one summer and wanted to test its float-ability.  Donna was still home then, so I was probably five or six.

So they built this boat from scrap wood, dragged it up to the top of the pasture and put me in it. They shoved it into the middle of the pond where it quickly sank. Which gave them an unexpected second experiment: What was my float-ability?

Like all good scientists, this test was repeated more than once as they tried to fix the boat. It never floated, but I never stayed down.

Always the tag-along, I was apparently more hungry for inclusion than scared of the next test.

I also remember a summer where we took swim lessons of a sort at Shakamak State Park. Most summers, my mom would drop us there in the morning and return when the lake closed in the late afternoon. My memory is overhearing two lifeguards talking about me. "What's that stroke that one is doing?" one asked. "I dunno," said the other. "But it looks like she can really move."

Between the lake, our pond and creek and various pits left behind by surface coal mining, I was in the water a lot as a kid. Like the lifeguards from 100 years ago, Alison was puzzled by my mobility when we finally swam together at the Jordan Y.

She channeled the Captain with her coaching. "OK. We're going to 500 meters, no break. Go down freestyle and back backstroke, OK?"

"Wait a minute! How long is one length?" I asked, not sure I could finish a lap, let alone however many laps 500 meters would be.

"One trip down is 25, so you need to do 10 times up and back. No break," she said, preparing to start.

She saw my face. "OK. Let's start with five times," she said.

I took a deep breath. Now, like all good parents, we've equipped Ali with all the stuff she's needed for the various activities and sports she's taken up over the years. From dance to Tae Kwon Do to softball and acting. She has two Speedo, one-piece swim suits, goggles and a swim cap.

I was wearing a Target suit that has seen probably six or 10 seasons and my hair-protective cap. I borrowed her spare goggles.

The freestyle portion was fine. Sure, my muscles started protesting after a while, but I was chugging along really well. The backstroke was good, a little soothing at first. I got through the first test just fine.

I was coasting back to the edge when she nudged me. "What are you doing?"

"What do you mean?"

"That is not a stroke," she said. I'd stopped actually lifting my arms out of the water for my backstroke and was sort of propelling myself like an otter. Apparently that's not "real."  "You have to do the actual stroke," she tells me.

She tried to show me the breast stroke. It's a lot harder than it looks and requires a coordination I'm not sure I've ever had. She showed me the butterfly but agreed before I voiced my concern that this was a lesson for another day.

We focused for a time on just using legs. Then just arms. Have you ever swam 50 meters in a pool with your legs dragging behind like dead weights? "Uh. Mom. It's not time for a break yet," she said.

I sighed. Back to the grind. Thirty minutes in, I was kind of done. "How about you just focus on freestyle and backstroke?" she said.

Hurrah. Except this was about the time I noticed a wardrobe issue. I was fine with the freestyle stroke, but when I flipped to the backstroke, my suit with its shirred front and three-seasons-too-long fit had taken to drifting with the waves. I'm not sure how long I was exposing myself to whoever might be watching, but it was frequent and at times fairly flagrant.

I had felt like the lifeguards were fairly vigilant for a pool where there were only four lap swimmers and two parents with their kids. I'd initially thought they were checking Ali out, which isn't at all unlikely as she's getting a bit buff as she swims so much.

Then, I'd wondered if they were pondering how long I'd flail around before they'd get a chance to use their rescue gear and  fish me out of the drink.

But once I realized I'd been flashing the world every time I practiced my backstroke, I had a few different thoughts:

1. These boys must be truly bored to think a 50+-year-old nipple or two is worth their time, 
2. I flashed back to the time two snooty teenage girls in the same gym's fitness area telling me  I couldn't wear just my exercise bra when working out. I had to cover my midriff with either a bigger bra or a tee-shirt, and
3. OMG. I'm a flasher.

That's about the time I called it a day. I'd made it 45 minutes.

Besides the obvious criminality of the endeavor, every muscle in my body was shaking. Ali was still going strong. I climbed out of the pool like some primordial goo, pulled up my top and headed for the women's locker room hot tub, careful to avoid eye contact with anyone.

Oh. Alison made the varsity squad. She's super excited. I'm going to buy a new swimsuit. Maybe switch gyms.

In other news, because she needs to be able to see in the pool, Alison has a trial pair of contacts. We'll make sure they're the ones she needs before she gets a full supply. We took Jeff out for a late birthday dinner. He'd celebrated much of the day with his buddies at their annual Purdue football game outing on his actual birthday last week.

You might have noticed that I've not said a ton about the election of late. I don't think there's anything left to say. Whatever happens after Tuesday, I hope we can regain some sense of mutual respect and acceptance of the outcome -- whatever that outcome is.

I'm thinking that our country isn't much different than that boat my sisters and brothers kept trying to build. It's still an experiment, but we can get to shore and try again.

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