Confessions of a former mermaid

Getting this cottage for the week was pure luck, a bonus in a summer that we’ve otherwise spent far too close to home. It’s rustic (read: bring your own drinking water; wood stove for heat; don’t even think about a dishwasher or laundry), but the screened in back porch might be the most perfect place in the world: We’re practically inside the trees, their branches swaying and soughing around us, the lake glimmering up through their trunks. I could stay here forever.

View from the porch

I won’t of course, because my children choose a different definition of perfection: the dock and anchored floating platform mere metres below this porch. I could sit here, away from the sun and the bugs, all day, but their bliss is the water. 

I, too, love the water. We lived in Panama when I was a toddler, so I grew up swimming in the ocean. In early elementary school in Texas, after I passed the deep water swim test, I decided to walk to the pool by myself. After all, I reasoned, I was now allowed to swim alone and the pool was just down this street…somewhere. I made it to the pool, but the lifeguards, unimpressed by my bravado, called my mother to come get me before I got to swim. Years later, as we drove from Texas to California, our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean filled me with glee. Our parents, probably tired of driving with three little girls and a dog, stopped the car almost immediately, and I stripped down to my underwear and ran into the ocean. 

Soon enough I joined a swim team and, when we moved again, another. Summertime saw me in the water for hours every day, often heading home only long enough to eat lunch and go back. I swam so much that one summer my blond hair turned chlorine-green. For a while, I even swam on a year-round team, waking in the wee hours of winter to dive into a pool and swim before school. By the end of high school I was a lifeguard and a swim coach, a job I continued into college. I scuba-dived on vacations and snorkeled while pregnant with my eldest. I once joked that I was half-mermaid, as at home in the water as I was on land.

These days, I’m no mermaid. We’ve been at this cottage for three days, and I have yet to go in the water. Oh, I’ve let my feet hang over the edge of the dock and wiggled my toes as fish swim by, wondering if they should risk a nibble. I’ve kayaked the entire perimeter of this small lake. I even tried stand-up paddle boarding. But actual swimming? Nope.

Yesterday our friends came for a visit and, as the fathers splashed and swam with the kids, my fellow mom and I sat and watched. I was wearing my bathing suit, but I declined even a direct invitation to join them in the water. I was completely content on land.

When did this happen? When did I become one of the moms who sits and chats instead of playing? Was there a day? A month? If I looked back carefully, could I pinpoint the last summer that I went into the water willingly? When did going into the water turn from joy to job? It’s not like I’m worried about my hair (it air-dries just fine) or my makeup (I stopped wearing it during covid, in part to encourage my students to turn on their cameras regardless of their concerns about appearance). I tease my family that I cannot trust Canadian-born people to accurately assess water temperature – their warm is not the same as mine – and it’s true that Canadian lakes, even small ones, are not as warm as South Carolina lakes, but I can tell that this one is not especially cold. So why don’t I go in? I honestly don’t know, but even thinking about it, recognizing the change, I’m not tempted. To be fair to myself, I’ve already swum across one lake this summer, and I have every intention of swimming across this one before we leave. Maybe tomorrow, I think, maybe then I’ll go in.

I might, but I’m not sure. Even as I sit here, remembering my former mermaid self, I feel no sense of loss. I’m happy on this perfect porch, letting the wind caress me, feet up, hair down, appreciating the smooth silver surface of the lake from a place of quiet.

With gratitude to Two Writing Teachers for creating this place where teachers can practice the craft of writing.

15 thoughts on “Confessions of a former mermaid

  1. I love how you traced your history/relationship with water until you got back to the present and realized you were no longer tempted. The details about the cabin were particularly inviting and I wish I was there right now as it does sound quite nice!

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  2. I stayed with the sensuousness of this line: “ We’re practically inside the trees, their branches swaying and soughing around us, the lake glimmering up through their trunks”. You brought me there and then took me on the journey of your self reflection asking important questions. This is another of your talents – situating the reader, drawing them in to your experience, then asking the universal questions. Just brilliant, Amanda.

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  3. I loved the pictures your words created of your surroundings. I have a pool in my backyard (something I always wanted), and I find that I am out of it more than I am in it. It is hard for me to explain, too. Too much work? The discomfort of a wet bathing suit? I am not sure. I love the water.

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  4. Amanda, your love of water is astounding. My own children were swimmers since they were very young and still love the sport. My son, as a disabled athlete, swims a mile or more a day when he is able to. We are happy in VA but always long for the ocean so last week it was a treat being in Souther Jersey at the shore. Your opening and closing make me think that nature is soothing your summer soul.

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  5. I’ve always wanted to be a water person. I’m not. I thought about all the joy you experienced as a child and young adult in the water and how much I missed, but I do understand the contentment of being on shore, too. Your memories are beautiful, and you’ll always be a mermaid.

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  6. That porch view…pretty perfect. I enjoyed your swimming timeline. I pictured you racing into the Pacific Ocean…my own kids do the same in the Atlantic every summer. I used to be the same way, but now you have me wondering when my land loving started. I’m glad you got away- it is so refreshing.

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  7. I am envious of you, half-mermaid, as I never learned to swim. This is so evocatively written, and the delicate reflection adds to a wistful feeling.

    Just so you know, the waters of the Northumberland Strait, off New Brunswick, are the warmest salt water north of the Carolinas. Head east, my friend. Head east. 🙂

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  8. If your looking for a timeline, I remember you enthusiastically swimming at our cottage when the kids were little.

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  9. This one saddened me, friend, and I’m not sure I can explain why. Maybe because I am still the first one in my suit when I’m anywhere near water. I am still the human who is more comfortable in water than on land. And I will always be the mom in the water. My spouse is not a big swimmer – he’ll go in to cool down, but he won’t stay in. One kid is a fish, like me, the other can take it or leave it.
    I have gotten much more appreciative of quiet space as I age, and I wonder if that’s why the water still calls me. In my family, it is my space, most often, and a space where I can float and reflect and dream.
    Thank you for this. It’s beautiful.

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    1. I’m almost, but not quite, sad about this change – somewhere on the edge of nostalgia. But this afternoon I dove in & went for a swim with Mr. 10 & it was so lovely that I’m sure I’ll do it again tomorrow before we go home.

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  10. Oh, how I miss our yearly visits to the beach, cut off by busy schedules and hurricanes and pandemic! I am impressed that you can wax nostalgic without sadness, as I am missing the “old me” at the moment, in some ways. This getaway sounds absolutely lovely, and I could picture myself sitting among the trees with you. Thanks for a bit of respite on this morning before heading off to work!

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  11. So compelling, these “confessions of a former mermaid.” It speaks to me, where I am now – not quite the same as I used to be. I am growing older. Do the same things I loved before hold the same allure? Can I savor my surroundings and thoughts without needing to, say, plunge in? I find that I can…immersing looks different now; I savor things on a deeper level. This is where your post takes me. Embracing change, perhaps. And being okay with it. So well-rendered, Amanda.

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