My daughter foists her pure joy and zest for life upon me like a double scoop, chocolate mint, ice cream cone on a hot summer day. I have no choice but to dive right in, devouring stickiness, sweetness, down to the cone where the bottom is dripping through, with fervor and singleness of purpose.
Some days I am just not up for it, but “No” is not an option with this little Taurus. I admit, I enjoy spontaneous joy and fun, but only after I have initiated the idea, sketched it out, met with the boardroom in my head, where we tried to reach a consensus but one guy was posting his lunch to Instagram.
So when my daughter asked to go to the pool, I rolled my eyes reluctantly, like a brooding teenager, and packed up the towels, the sunscreen, and beach bag to schlepp to our neighborhood pool. It is nearing the end of summer, and we won’t have many warm days left.
“Mama, swim with me!” My daughter begs.
I stir from my newly settled sun lounger and freshly sprayed tanning oil like a sleeping cat whose nap was just interrupted by a wayward fly buzzing. I am just delving into my next page of the summer novel I promised myself I would read 3 summers ago.
“Just get in for a little bit. Come on Mama, I will help you.” And this is the warning sign that I should just raise the white flag of surrender now.
“Helping” is the breath of life to an 8-year-old girl. They like to “help” an otherwise healthy roly-poly across the sidewalk, the kitten with the latest fashionable doll sweater, and ants to the sugary trail of Halloween candy under her bed. Once an 8-year-old decides you need help, your best bet is to openly surrender with eyes wide open. Other parents have tried playing Possum, but wound up mummified in Hello Kitty bandages.
“Do you want me to give you just a little water to see how warm it is?” as she brings over a scoop full of pool water cradled in her “finders keepers” scuba mask and pours it gently upon my shins, causing twinges of pre-hypothermia goose bumps to rise like little sentinels. She is showing signs of blue herself, teeth chattering like castanets, but since when has that ever stopped a kid from going into water before?
This summer has been her best summer for swimming yet. Between swimming lessons at her summer camp and regular trips to the pool ourselves, I watched her sputter and lurch through the 3 foot at beginning of summer like a lawn sprinkler run over by a lawn mower to her present day push and glide like a water bug. She has confidence now in the 8 foot, and doesn’t require my “insta-panic” hovering.
I fold my belly rolls forward as I sit up, setting aside my book, my glasses, and my ego, looking at my daughter’s eager face light up as I walk to the edge of the 8 foot.
Splash! Instant chlorinated coolness wakes me instantly to life: the Joy of underwater swimming transforms my limbs into a mermaid tail and I am 8 years old again! The rush, the thrill of holding my breath invigorates my dull adult brain, and I pretend I have grown gills, where I no longer need to surface as often.
My favorite game is swimming from one side of the pool length and back without taking a breath. I have never outgrown this game and still challenge my brother whenever we see each other. I take a couple of laps before surfacing triumphantly.
Up above, my daughter waits, her golden hair spilling like sunshine beneath the water’s edge, smiling with giddiness that Mama has shed her curmudgeonly shell for a while.
“Can you touch the bottom of the 8 foot side yet?”
“No!” she retorts wild-eyed with fear and fascination.
“Push yourself off from the wall like this” I say as I demonstrate, plunging down below and touching the bottom with my feet, before bouncing back up.
“I don’t know if I can, but I’ll try. Mama you help.”
Each time she plunges her little body down, I wait at the bottom to catapult her back to the surface . After multiple attempts, her confidence grows with her determination. Finally , her toes touch not just the curve of the wall (which “doesn’t count” in her book) but the legitimate 8 foot bottom itself. She comes up gasping and sputtering, but beaming victorious!
Shivering, but elated, we wrap our land legs up with our towels and gather our belongings for home. Every time I say “Yes” to participation in my kids life, is one more moment I didn’t squander. Every time I say Yes to life, to adventure, to get off the beach lounger and out of my comfort zone, my horizons expand, my life becomes richer.