Water, Water Everywhere

My oldest son is home for a few weeks before he leaves for China, where he’s going to live for a year or more, teaching English to what could be the cutest little kids on the globe. I’m really excited about his new adventure, but also I’m excited about him being home for a few weeks before he leaves.

In addition to packing in Leave-it-to-Beaver family bonding experiences to last a year, I’ve promised him some Florida Adventures. They will most likely involve water in various formats, some of them splashing in my face, which is making me slightly anxious.

I’m not the nervous type, but the things I worry about almost all involve water. Besides choking (which is beyond a fear; it’s a phobia of epic proportions for me. I would tell you more about it, but I don’t think I have time because I’m busy worrying about someone inhaling a hot dog somewhere in the world) my second biggest fear is drowning. And no, I didn’t have rabies. As far as I know.

Let me start at the beginning, when I was little and when my sister Kathy would insist on breaking me away from my overprotective mother to take me to Glen Echo or Yankee Lake or Farmer Jim’s to swim (she tried to make me normal; she tried hard), my mom would yell out the back screened door as we packed our beach gear into the car, “Don’t drown!”

I read a Dave Barry column in which he said that his mother used to say the same thing to him, except she was kidding. He used that as an example of the cool sense of humor his mom had. I use it as an example of why I close my mouth and plug my nose when I walk by puddles.

While other kids went to Glen Echo to have fun, splash around and play Marco Polo, I just tried not to die. When I think of my relationship with water, I can safely say that all of my memories are either gruesome, hair raising or embarrassing. Here they are in roughly chronological order:

At Glen Echo once, my Tony the Tiger innertube flipped over with me in it and I was stuck head first in the water, my feet kicking wildly as I tried to right myself. My sister Kathy flipped me over, saving my life and saying, “Oh don’t be such a baby. You’re fine.”

The first dying body I ever saw was a guy at Glen Echo who dove into the diving area and hit broken glass, came up all bloody and they laid him out on the beach to die the least dignified death, with a bunch of sunburned kids in bathing caps and Tony the Tiger innertubes standing around him. Note to young self: Don’t dive. Ever.

My grandfather told me that he went into the water before the allotted 20 minute waiting period after eating, got a stomach cramp and almost drowned. I believed him, even when each time he told the story, the waiting period increased to 25 minutes, a half hour, 45 minutes . . .

My mom signed me up for swim lessons in the basement of a church in Sharon, Pennsylvania, one summer. My friend Diane K and I went together, because our moms could carpool. (And didn’t anyone find it odd that the swimming pool was in a church? Large group baptisms? What?) I was so terrified of the swim lessons, it’s a wonder I didn’t turn Wiccan. The smell of chlorine to this day gives me butterflies. It reminds me of walking from the shower room into the pool area, where I knew the teachers would make fun of me because I wouldn’t let go of the side of the pool. No one took pity on me or even tried to teach me how to actually swim, despite the fact that that is what we were paying for. The teachers spent all their time with the kids who already knew how to swim. A year ago, I washed a load of whites with Clorox and the memories came flooding back. I hope those swim teachers are old hags with their own irrational fears by now.

I spent many summers going to Lake Erie, with the Balestrinos, where we gave fate the finger by running along the break wall and swimming way too far out into the lake. The Balestrino Family Rule that nothing bad happens to people who take risks proved to be true.

My high school had swimming as part of gym class, because my town had a community swimming pool that was conveniently located right next door to the school. Cool, yes? No. Gym class was bad enough with volleyball, rope climbing, square dancing, the balance beam, somersaults, those BO-laden gym uniforms, the trampoline, getting naked in the locked room with the big-boobed girls, kickball - all of which I sucked at - but add swimming in there and it was enough to get a high school junior to march into the principal’s office and say, “Hey, I’m one of the smart girls. Can’t I get a freakin’ waiver here?” The only perk of having high school swimming was yearbook photos of guys in Speedos.

My high school gym teacher told us once that - and I quote - “you can drown on a drop of water.” For years I believed her. It was just what I had been waiting to hear. Do teachers know their own power?

When I first met my husband, I didn’t know he was a water/boating person until after I fell in love with him and it was too late to bail. On our third or fourth date, he took me to Lake Milton to walk romantically on the docks in the moonlight and - I am not lying about this, ask him, he’ll tell you it’s true - I was afraid to walk across the dock boards because there was a gap of 5 inches in some cases. He married me anyway. Isn’t that cool?

People who knew me growing up think it’s ironic that now I have a swimming pool in my back yard and I go to the beach a couple times a week, where I sometimes walk into the ocean up to my neck. And I will even walk on the docks with my husband, where there’s a gap of 6 inches or more!

So there are sure to be water adventures for my China-bound son in the next few weeks. Could someone please yell out, “Don’t drown!” to us? We may need the encouragement.

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