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.
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.