You don’t know how many times I’ve gotten in an argument with someone about whether or not I can float. You see, most people believe that everyone on the planet can float. And they’d be wrong. There are people that can’t float. People with higher than normal metal contents in their body, zinc and particularly iron, apparently don’t float. My father has a disease called hemochromatosis which means that he has several hundred percent too much iron in his blood. In his case, before he was diagnosed, it had eaten away some of the bones in his spine and he’s in pretty constant pain when he’s not on painkillers. It’s a genetic disorder, which means that there is a very good chance it could be passed down to me. But…it hasn’t been…and it turns out I can absolutely float.
A little background. I’m terrified of the water ANNNND I also love it. I love the water because it’s the water. The ocean, it’s sounds and the way it feels, is a magnificent wonder. I’m terrified because when I was a kid, my uncle thought that it would be funny to throw me into a pool in which I couldn’t touch bottom to see if I might suddenly learn how to swim. I didn’t, about 30 years later, I still couldn’t swim or float. But now I’m a dad and we have a cottage by the ocean and my kids love the water so being afraid of the water and not being able to swim is no longer a possibility. So for the past several years I’ve been trying to learn how to swim and, because I’m lazy and think it would be nice to just lay there, float. Here’s what I’ve learned about floating, swimming and life in the past four weeks.
My biggest problem with swimming and in particular floating was that I tried to do it like I was going to die if I didn’t. And that’s fine, if you’re going to die if you don’t but that’s how I treated it in 4ft deep swimming pools and in chest deep water in the ocean. I would try to float but at the first sign of failure I would collapse in on myself like a dying star, feet and arms flailing like I was auditioning for Jaws. What’s the worst that would happen if I sunk to the bottom of a 4ft deep swimming pool? Well, I could stand up.
One of my favorite things to consider as I try new things, as I take on new projects and as I generally make my way through life is, “what’s the worst that’s LIKELY to happen.” I don’t like to think about the worst that COULD happen because nuclear zombies and all that jazz, but I like to think, “if this all goes to shit, what’s the likely outcome.”
Waiting Is Not Easy
This is one of my favorite Gerald & Piggy books that I read with my kids and yet, like most parents, I fail to see the connections that are RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE. When I couldn’t float ONCE, I decided I couldn’t float. Why bother trying? Why bother trying twice? Clearly anything you fail once you will never, ever succeed at, right?
I had to wait for the perfect conditions before I was able to float. Small waves. Kids under control. And so on. And when those conditions lined up, I put my head back, picked up my legs and floated.
I used to hold my breath whenever I was trying to float or swim. I could swim, underwater, with my eyes closed, as long as I could hold my breath. Then I would shoot out of the water like a deranged walrus, taking deep breath, thrashing around and trying to make sure I can touch the bottom of the 4ft deep pool. It turns out that one of the things that is necessary when it comes to swimming, floating and living is breathing. I thought you could ONLY float so long as you held your breath. Never mind that I’ve watched people float for several minutes. Turns out I don’t understand how breathing works.
In parenting, web development, swimming and life, I’ve discovered that breathing is actually super important. Sometimes taking a deep breath provides oxygen to an idea that you know is right but is just about dead. Oxygen, it turns out, is super important when it comes to things like thinking, floating and not dying. Key.
Just a couple of days ago I swam two 75m lengths in choppy ocean including a brief float, going underwater for a bit, coming out of the water and NOT looking like a B movie horror monster and in general, making it alive. I can float for a solid length of time in the ever buoyant salt water and can float for awhile in a fresh water pool. My kids don’t know that I’m terrified of the water and I don’t scare the lifeguards when I try to swim. Most importantly, I’m more calm and more patient; qualities which I’ve found useful both in and out of the water.