Thursday, February 25, 2021

Testing the Waters

Last night I got to swim again for the first time in nearly a year.

With the exception of occasional walks on the treadmill while watching Star Trek, or travel home from work on foot, any real physical activity became one of my basic losses of the pandemic. Right around my birthday in mid-March 2020, my county pool shut down. There is talk it may never reopen. In the meantime, the impact on my body of no longer swimming a few times a week hasn't been good. I feel less capable in my skin, like I've suffered a power drain.

So I asked around to see if there were any pools in our area that had found a way to allow people to swim safely, and I found two. One is north of us, a bit far, a bit expensive, but has excellent protocols. The other is south, closer, cheap, but a bit more lax. The one to the south was incredibly convenient (no reservations, evening hours), so my oldest daughter and I decided to give it a try and see if we felt safe there or not.

At first, it didn't look promising. There were swim lessons going on, and too many people indoors without masks for our comfort. I left my mask on until the last minute and got into the pool. I figured once submerged, it couldn't get much safer. I have noticed over the years that the odds of my even picking up a common cold were greatly diminished when I swim regularly, most likely because soaking for long periods in chlorine kills anything I might have picked up. Aden stood at the far end of the pool where there were fewer people and waited for most of them to leave before she took off her mask and ventured into the water.

But then after the swim lessons ended, and the parents and children cleared out, we had the entire pool to ourselves! A lone lifeguard sat off to the side in a mask and looked on while we didn't drown. After a little while, they shut off some of the overhead lights and turned on the lights in the water to make it glow, which was really beautiful.

I hadn't intended to swim a whole mile, because I didn't want to make my body too sore after such a long hiatus, but it felt so nice to move I went ahead and did it anyway. The first few laps felt good and familiar, but also like a strange adjustment. My back didn't seem to understand what was happening, then got used to it. By lap eight, my arms were feeling it, but they got used to it, too. By the thirty-sixth lap, I knew I would be sore today, but it was nice to know it would be the good kind of sore. Not the feeling-old-while-I-get-out-of-bed kind of sore. Sore like I earned something. Sore like I can feel my body working the way it's supposed to.

Aden simply enjoyed floating about and being out of the house for a change. She agreed a pool to ourselves (or even at some point with a couple of other people in the other lanes) was not a big risk. We are going to do our best to stick to a regular schedule and swim a few times a week.

One of the things I appreciated while doing my laps again was the ability to think and sort out ideas. I can do that in a way in the pool that I can't quite do anywhere else. And as I was literally testing the waters again, returning to something that used to be normal and now feels noteworthy, I started to imagine what it will be like building toward an old life that seems new again.

I have orchestra back. It's different, and now carries an undertone of anxiety not related to simply sorting out rhythms and fingerings by a certain deadline, but it's part of my routine again. It requires I keep track of the days once more. I have to plan ahead to have gas in the car, and to eat before I leave to be someplace on time. "On time" has not been a concern for many months.

I'm working on a project for the Racine Art Museum's "Peeps contest." It was canceled last year, and my kids and I couldn't find any Peeps in the store anyway. (One of many unexpected shortages due to Covid.) I received a notice in the mail inviting our family to please participate this year. The Peeps contest is back! As are actual Peeps. I'm looking forward to sharing more about that as our projects come together this week.

"Looking forward to" is a nice phrase I haven't gotten to use in a while. There have only been vague plans and unfinished chores and no structure to anything. I didn't normally think of myself as someone needing structure, but I know better now.

I don't need rules so much as rhythm. I've missed anticipation, interaction, conclusion, accountability, and a predictable level of repetition that allows you to plan. I've missed planning things.

I told Aden I really believe she'll be able to start college in the fall. Finally. She's not convinced. She's had this rug pulled out from under her twice now.

I believe this past year has been hardest on her of anyone in our home. Virtual schooling as worked out very well for Mona, and doesn't seem to bother Quinn. This year would have been an adjustment for Ian anyway having retired from the Army, so he was already going to have to sort out what role to play at home now. I have good days and bad. But Aden was supposed to be able to finish her senior year of high school and spend the summer with her friends and move on to a college adventure. I was going to send her care packages and enjoy hearing stories of life on her own when she'd visit at holidays. Instead she's been without direction or a social scene that requires she get up from the couch. Compound that with the guilt of being anything short of grateful for a home where she's safe and a family that is healthy, and it makes for a fairly dismal gap year.

But I really do think with a year of her college figuring out what works and what doesn't, people getting vaccinated, better and more rapid tests becoming available, and her own new habits for staying safe, Aden will get to go away to school. Which means thinking about things like packing, and classes, and... And all the things a 19-year old should be thinking about. I'm excited for her.

We're a long way from normal. And there are some things about the old normal that I don't think I want back. But swimming again on a regular schedule is a big step in the right direction for a change. I feel it in my muscles today. And I feel it in my heart.