We stood waiting, awkwardly, as most middle aged women in bathing suits do. One woman asked in a beautiful accent, “Why are you here? Don’t you know how to swim?” It seemed she assumed my childhood in suburban America should have entitled me to swim lessons, and they were dying to know what went wrong.
I knew how to swim, technically. My best skill was a clumsy free-style with my head gawking above water. But as I watched my children’s swim lessons, I enviously kept one eye on nearby adult swimmers. It was as if they knew my weakness and completed lap after lap to taunt me. Knowing how to swim laps felt like something that good, reasonable adults knew how to do. It showed foresight, since it could be done well into old age. If I was going to join senior water aerobics one day, I needed to learn to put my face in the water.
Thus, I became the newest and only American-born member of an adult instructional swim class. We stood by the pool, looking like a portrait of United Nations representatives, except that we were all women, in bathing suits. Awaiting my turn in the pool, my inner voice berated me for wasting my time in such an embarrassing manner. The mom-skirt on my bathing suit sided with my inner voice, foolishly floating up around my middle.
I’ll spare you the ugly details of each weekly lesson to declare this: I became a real swimmer. At least, I learned to swim with my face in the water and gained two new strokes. I also gathered wonderful material to use during “teachable moments” with my children. My swim lesson story debuted in pep talks on facing fears, overcoming challenges, and remaining confident despite insecurity.
However, my true success was discovering that trying something new, even poorly, was better than never trying. As a mom, I have often let the hefty responsibility of growing little humans cause me to become cautious and serious. Every minor parenting decision felt as critical as performing neurosurgery. At any given moment, I felt just one burnt dinner or one child’s epic tantrum away from failing motherhood and ruining my children’s lives. Yet, how seriously could I take myself when choking on pool water, mom-skirt waving? What else was I to do but laugh when 75-year-old women lapped me in the next lane?
I believe that some of the richest experiences in life come not from ambitious goals and hard-earned accomplishments, but from opportunities to be imperfect and laugh at yourself. Based on these criteria, my swim lessons were a brilliant success!