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vendredi 1 juillet 2011

(sink or) Swim

(By the way, I'm totally going to say I succeeded in NaBloPoMo last month, even if one of my posts didn't actually appear on the right day so it looks like there's a day missing.)

I've made it my mission to do NaBloPoMo again, and this month's theme is SWIM.

My relationship with water-of-the-swimming-in kind has always been somewhat strained. In fact, one of the surest ways to turn me into a blubbering wreck when I was a kid was to mention the words "swimming" and "lesson" and "school" in the same sentence.

I remember the horror of swimming lessons at one of the many primary schools I attended. Eight-year-old me, sitting, blue with cold, on the icy, wet tiles surrounding the local municipal pool. Shivering - with cold, yes, but also with absolute terror. Waiting for the swim teacher to stand behind me and push me in, suddenly. The waiting was almost as bad as the entry into the wet stuff itself. Almost, but not quite.

Hyperchlorinated water burning my eyes, ears, nose. Gasping for breath, arms flailing helplessly. Tears pouring down my face, scrambling back to the side, struggling to climb back out and then back to the start - sitting on those damn tiles, the rough edge cutting into the backs of my horribly skinny, white legs, shivering, gulping back the sobs, waiting for the next push.

Unsurprisingly, I didn't learn to swim at school. I was given the "10 m achievement" badge, but I think everyone got that as long as they turned up to class. I have no recollection of ever being able to swim 10 m as a child.

As we're talking about 1970s/1980s Britain, private pools and hot summers at the beach didn't feature highly in my childhood. My father absolutely didn't have the patience to teach me, my mother was worse than I was, swimming just wasn't a priority nor even, in reality, a possibility.

I never really learned to swim, in fact.

I took classes as a young adult (with my mother, for the love of God), and failed. I took classes here in France, after the death of my first child, in an attempt to accept my body. Amazingly, I DID learn that time - I could do a pretty decent crawl and breast stroke. But I never liked diving in (or even jumping in), and I still flinched if I got splashed by someone else. And I didn't really enjoy it. I never felt "in my element" (how the fuck could WATER be my environment? I mean, seriously? Do I have gills?)

I became pregnant again, had hideous, hideous nausea and sickness for the entire time, tried to swim - in the sea - only once and it was a disaster: the Mediterranean has no nice, reassuring handrails on three sides, no (visible) boundaries and MOVES ALL THE TIME (OK, the waves are pretty pathetic by oceanic standards but still. More waves than a damn pool). Oh, and there can be seaweed and jellyfish and... So. Yeah. Not so much the swimming in the sea stuff.

And now, 10 years later, I think it's safe to say I am back to not being able to swim at all again. "They" say you never forget, I beg to differ. In 2000-2001, I could swim, quite well, underwater even. Now, I can't. I've rarely been in a position to try, it's true, as I avoid it as much as I can (example: I live 10 km from the Mediterranean and went to the beach exactly 6 times last year, going "in the water" (up to my waist) only 3 of those times, plus once in a hotel pool on holiday in Spain). I can't bear being splashed, or pushed, or jostled. I can't bring myself to LIE DOWN in WATER. I CANNOT DO IT.

I pretty much loathe my body, particularly in a swimsuit. I feel white and pasty and deeply, deeply unattractive and self-conscious. D was of no help with that, frequently making fun of me and making me feel worse. Now, as a single woman of 42, my self-consciousness is in the stratosphere.

I react very badly to chlorine. My eyes go red in minutes, they start streaming, stinging, hurting.

The sea is totally out, for all the reasons mentioned above.

I feel the cold very, very easily (it's 35°C here today, but the sea's probably no more than 24°C - my teeth would be chattering within 5 minutes; swimming pools are no better) and rarely find the right balance of air temperature/desire to get wet/water temperature that would push me into "going in".

That said, I would love to be able to swim, sliding gracefully through the water, at ease in an element that feels so alien to me it might as well be Neptune. I would love to be able to have fun in the water with my girls, instead of having my heart racing in a pre-panic attack of what the holy fuck I would do if one of them got into trouble and needed my help. I know I've missed out on so much.

I love the fact that C swims like a fish, actively asks for swim lessons (she's been going for years now), loves the water and is totally at ease. Even L - who refuses lessons and has reacted very badly when forced to take them - loves the water and isn't far from teaching herself to swim. Even D, for all his faults, is a great and enthusiastic swimmer.

That just leaves me, fully dressed and under the parasol, feeling like a freak. I said I only went 6 times to the beach last year - it's true, but it's not a sob story: I hated family trips to the beach. I hated feeling so marginal, so much of a freak. I resent not being able to go, sure (no car - D has it - no other means of getting there), but not the actual beachiness of it.

But I always have the sneaking suspicion that maybe, just maybe, I could have become a swimmer. It's a sport that might have suited me, it would have given me a healthy activity, as well as a way to have fun with my girls.

Swimming. Another area of my life in which I have fucked up totally.

Sink or swim? Sink, without a doubt, without a trace.

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