Swimming with Katie

Three-year-old Katie, before taking the plunge for the first time this year.

I was sorting through my drafts folder recently and found several that needed just a touch of revision. This one, originally written in July of last year when Katie was a two-year-old in love with swimming and I was a round eight months pregnant, seems appropriate to share today: we opened the pool for the first time this season on Saturday. Katie, still my little fish, was ecstatic, and kept wanting to get back in the water even when she was shivering so hard her words came out in stutters and gasps.

I had one of those picture-perfect moments of clarity last week, one of those that stop you in the midst of an otherwise ordinary day and wake you to the wonder of the world, the beauty of your surroundings. They don’t come as often as they ought. I find myself mired in the quotidian tasks of the day-to-day, in the dark and ugly and disgusting news that comes trolling across my computer screen, and I forget to open my eyes to the good, forget to prepare myself for the small instances of awe.

Katie loves the pool. She’ll find her swimsuit and pull herself into it, waddling out to me with the slightly-too-small bottoms bunched around her knees, the top put on backwards over whatever dress or shirt she was already wearing. She gathers her towel in her arms and holds it up to me, an offering, though one not nearly as sweet as the grin she gives as she asks me to take her outside for her favorite activity.

“Go schwum, Mama?”

I smile down at her, weighing a dozen factors – the ambient temperature and her energy level and my own exhaustion and the time of day and the obligations we have and so many other things – in the brief moment she allots me before asking again. Her enthusiasm is contagious and the heat is oppressive; I nod, and encourage her back to her room so that we can situate her suit correctly, replace her regular diaper with one meant for swimming. She runs – always, she runs these days, never does she walk – down the hall in front of me, her words bouncing excitedly off of the walls.

“Schwum, Mama! Schwum!”

I lather her with sunscreen, then tug my own suit down over my ever-expanding middle. Katie laughs in delight at the odd protrusion of my belly button, running her fingers over its shape, then leans in and gives it a kiss.

“Love Abby,” she tells me, tilting her head back to smile up at me.

She’s a fish, and something about the water awakens her adventurous side. She gets that from her dad. Last weekend, she watched her dad jump off of the diving board, then insisted on giving it a try herself, clutching my finger as I helped her stand on the edge of the fiberglass. She laughed as she fell into his waiting arms, then immediately reached for me to do it again. She “swims” on her belly, one of our hands beneath her in support, her small legs and arms churning the water.

I put her on the edge of the pool last week, before she’d braved the diving board, and encouraged her to “jump” into my arms. She did so from her seated perch on the concrete, did it without hesitation, and then asked to do it again, and again, and again, and again. It became a bit of a game – she would sit there, pretending to look off into the sky, as though she wasn’t going to jump this time. Thank goodness for the guilelessness of a two-year-old, for the sly twist of the lips that would come just before she launched herself into my arms or I might not have caught her, and then the fun would have been over.

That moment of clarity came there, at the end of it, the last time she jumped for the day. She sat there on the edge, and I looked up into her face, my beautiful, happy, sweetheart of a girl. Behind her, the sky was a perfect, deep blue, broken only by the dark brown and green of the pine trees on the hill. She grinned down at me, then fell into my arms, and I thought to myself what a lovely world this is, what a privilege it is to draw breath in a place that includes such wonders as two-year-olds in swimsuits and the joyful exuberance of sweet girls and refreshing cool water on a hot summer day.

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