Never too late

The two biggest fears I had growing up were (not counting things like natural disasters, child predators, death, starvation, fires (etc.) which to me are givens):

  • childbirth
  • swimming

Obviously, I had mastered my first fear, a fear so strong that I delayed pregnancy for as long as I could. And then, as my luck would have it, I would end up laboring 29 hours in a hospital surrounded by rice paddies in a foreign country, almost 7000 miles from my mother who, due to health problems that year, could not travel to see us. But having gone through what I did, I felt like I could conquer the L&D world: let me birth 2, 3, 4 more babies, I thought. I can do it! The fact that that opportunity never came is beside the point (another post for another time, perhaps); my whole mindset and attitude changed because of my one Olympic accomplishment.

Fear of the water, of swimming, is something that has plagued me since I was 7. When I entered the 2nd grade my elementary school had moved into a brand new building, equipped with a large heated indoor pool. Swimming classes were part of the curriculum and I was the class’s worst student. I hated putting my face in the water. I refused to lift my feet off the pool floor. When other kids were diving, I was still going nowhere on my kick board. I began forging sick notes to the teacher every few weeks, but she caught on and shook her head at me in exasperation once, saying to me “I don’t believe you.” Yes, I was lying…not because I had no interest in learning, but because I was scared. I wish that as a teacher she could have seen that.

Not being a swimmer means being on the sidelines alot, especially during the summers. There is little motivation to accept beach invitations or to hang out at the pool. I try to avoid boats, canoes, rafts and ships in case I’m ever in a Titanic situation. It is even harder when you marry someone whom I like to call a “water person.” There is a camp of people who say they could live in the water, and Max is one of them. He comes from generations of water people and by 9 was competing with adults in swim competitions. He even named his two sons after the ocean. We honeymooned in Maui and now that we are back in the US, every weekend is beach or water park weekend, especially now that I have also birthed a mini water person.

And I have to admit, watching people in water makes me want to get out there myself, except I have these stubborn legs and feet that refuse to let go of their grip on the ground. I look at swimmers’ freedom and carefreeness with envy. How wonderful it must feel to glide through water with a light body, rather than with a rapidly beating heart and images of the Titanic being flooded (see how much that movie impacted me…). How liberating it must be to view the ocean as an oasis rather than a whirlpool waiting to swallow you.

We had an early dinner last night and walked over to the new aquatic center near our house. Max and Fred were so used to my not accompanying them that they were making plans to go, just the two of them. And then I piped in, “I’m going too.”

Though I didn’t plan on doing anything except to help supervise Fred in the water, for some reason yesterday I decided to place my head back in the water and simply lift my feet off the pool floor…and let my body just be. And it floated. It wasn’t an anvil. It didn’t sink. And so I did it, again, and again, competing with Fred and crying to Max, “Look at me! Look at me! Did you see me?” I beamed, seeing my husband’s face light up and hearing his applause, as if I were 5 again. Then after about a half hour of floating and trying to swim on my back, I pushed myself a little further. This time I held my  breath and went in face down…again and again.

I’ll admit, I don’t like the roaring in my ears under water, nor do I feel completely confident holding my breath in an environment that does not yet feel like home. But yesterday my fear had taken a backseat. Not only did my body feel lighter, but so did my mind. At last I felt liberated, liberated from fear. After 41 years, maybe I too can become a water person.

16 thoughts on “Never too late

  1. No no no, it’s NEVER too late. And you ABSOLUTELY can become a water person. Yay to you, and the feeling of liberation. I hope you will continue to explore this side of you. I can “hear” the pride and triumph in your “voice” – it’s a beautiful thing.

    We are all of the same species as Max and Fred over here. And we’d love to have you join us. Well, not in a creepy children of the corn kind of way. I’ve loved water all my life and to hear someone overcoming their fear and slowly seeing what I see and feeling what I feel in the water makes me happy. For you. Better get that membership at the aquatic center 🙂

    • Thanks so much Justine. I’d love to join you all, if even in just a figurative, on line sense 🙂 It feels like such a big barrier to cross, and the reward I would imagine would be so great.

  2. Do you know Gigi, of KludgyMom? She also conquered her fear. The wonderful thing is, once you conquer this, it will give you a new sense of self in all other areas.

    I am proud of you at how you are living your life with you in charge.

    You are my girl, Ceci.

    • Thanks Alexandra! Gigi – the movie?? I’ll have to look her up! I remember my favorite quote during high school was one by Mark Twain: “Courage is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it.” I try to keep that in mind.

  3. Way to go, Cecilia!! So proud of you for facing your fear! (and totally impressed too!! I used to be a water person when I was younger, but as I got older became more fearful of the water – I think I’ve told you about my “traumatizing” moment in the ocean…) It’s so wonderful to hear how Max’s face lit up and how he cheered you on as you were floating in the water! Delightful. I, too, had a smile on my face as I read your entry…so proud of your accomplishment and encouraged by it at the same time. 🙂
    Way to Go!!

    • You are always so supportive of me, Christine – thank you!! I have to admit I kind of grabbed the spotlight from Jet that day but, oh well, we were thinking it’s an important example to set for him too. (He loves the water but is scared to try to let go too.) In the back of my mind I’ve always been afraid that I’d somehow model some fearful behavior to him. Anyway, I really appreciate your commenting!

  4. Dear Cecilia,

    I got a little emotional with your descriptive way of wording, “as if I were 5 again.” Isn’t that the truth? So many things that I would otherwise consider childish, scary, silly, corny, uncouth or even gross take on a whole new positive challenge when I’m guided by a 5 year old’s courage.

    Many of these comments are praising you for “facing your fear,” and, congrats, indeed! But I got the impression that “for some reason” means it was more spontaneous. That you just dove in (pun intended) in the thrill of the moment. (I can just see and hear Max’s applause, and wish we could share more family moments like that in person!) Is it simply a new side of your strength? It seems like you’ve tried a lot of new things over the past year – breaking down what you once thought of as old barriers.

    Regarding your fear of childbirth, I remember being taken aback when you told me, in 2004, that you told me I could do it if you could, since you feared it so badly. I was just getting to know you at the time, but only saw courage, and couldn’t and still can’t picture you having a phobia! I wouldn’t have been surprised if your story was that you had a WATER BIRTH!!!

    I miss you, Kathryn

    • Thanks Kathryn! The whole “water birth” concept was in my head as I was writing this – if only!

      You are right – one of the great feelings was to allow myself to be a child again. I’d always acted “adult” in that I worried about being a certain way. Letting go of inhibitions is a wonderful thing that comes more easily to children, I think…

      It was spontaneous and at the same time it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for the past year…that is, I’d been envying swimmers for a long time. Maybe that desire to really be in the water finally outweighed my fears, sort of like Fred getting some shots the other day. The nurses promised him stickers and he survived the shots like a little soldier. Later he said it was because he was holding out for the stickers 😉

  5. This is awesome! I am so impressed. And inspired. In so many ways. I am a water person, but I fear my baby isn’t. And that makes a Texas summer pretty hot. And lonely. It’s hard for me to take my water baby (no fear, not even a little healthy touch of fear) and my water phobic big girl to the many pool parties we’ve been invited to. I think I may need to be a little more accepting of her fear and let her find her own path. Man, parenting is hard.

  6. Good for you (on 29 hours of unmedicated labor and conquering your fear)! It always surprises me how bold we can be with ourselves when we decide to take on a challenge. I have a few fears I need to tackle myself, and this post is helping me remember that the strength lies in me.

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