For 27 years I have been swimming in the same pool. It is a nice pool in our northwest neighborhood that has enough length to swim laps, and a beautiful view of the central Texas hills.
My life has gone through lots of changes over 27 years, but the pool has remained a constant in my life.
From swimming alone when we first moved into this new newly developed neighborhood, through the child raising years when the pool became our social gathering place, to once again, swimming alone now that our son is a freshman in college.
From those late spring days when the water was icy cold but we were determined to get in the water, to the summer months of bath water temperature which barely cooled you off, to the early October days when you never knew if this was the last swim before a “cold front” chilled the water too much.
When I first swam at this neighborhood pool, I could go at anytime of the day and usually I had the pool to myself. Gradually, more families moved into the neighborhood and I found Saturday and Sunday mornings were the only times of quiet solitary swimming. Each year, like clockwork, once school started, I usually had the pool to myself again after work, and on the weekends.
The blue-bottomed pool is wide enough for about six lap lanes, though only the far side has the hard plastic, white and blue lane divider with space for two people to swim laps. White lounge chairs are always scattered sloppily around the pool, and I remember when we had a diving board in the deep end. A black, wrought-iron fence was added about 20 years ago, and the “new” wooden deck built about 10 years ago offers shade from the sun and those rare summer rainstorms.
As I think about the time I have spent at this pool, I realize it has filled a number of needs for me over the years.
The swimming pool has been a social network.
For years, I visited many an afternoon away with other moms as our children played in the pool. I have seen the neighborhood children grow up at the pool, including my own son. For almost 14 years, the pool was our playground. New friends for both of us were made in the baby pool, then at swimming lessons. Hot afternoons were spent chatting with moms about school, summer camps, child-raising tips and play dates as the kids swam. It was the perfect location for our son’s summer birthday — seven years of easy-to-plan birthday parties were far better than any franchised birthday venue.
The last few years my neighbors and I have caught up on our lives at the pool. We have remained the same (OK, we’ve gotten older) but the city and our families have changed over these 20-plus years. Our poolside view of the Loop 360 hills has changed as we watch houses being built on top of the ridges. Over the years we have gone from discussing children, to aging parents, to the housing market, and now our own heath concerns.
Swimming alone offers insights.
Our pool does not have a lifeguard anymore but there are written rules about behavior at the pool. I love to swim laps and I appreciate the parents who ensure their children don’t play in the lap lane. However, after becoming a mom, I am more relaxed and less critical of parents trying to corral their little ones.
Depending on my stroke, I can decide if I want to hear the conversations around the pool. Sometimes I catch interesting tidbits about strangers’ lives; other times, I put my head down and focus on the solid blue line at the bottom of the pool just to get away from bickering parents and children and I silently give thanks that my family is not arguing.
For those neighbors who swim laps when I do, I like to imagine that we have created our own unwritten, unspoken code: If there is no acknowledgement from the lap swimmer when you get in, that means no visiting now … gotta finish my laps. We’ll talk when we get done. Even if it only my rule, it seems to be working.
The pool is my refuge, even when it’s crowded.
I relax when I swim those laps. With my ears covered in a swim cap and partially submerged, usually all I hear is my breath as I take in air every other stroke and then the release of bubbles as I breathe out my nose. Most of the time while swimming those laps I count strokes and laps. Mindless, repetitious counting … that is somehow soothing.
There have been times when I went swimming just to cry. The stresses of the day just seemed too overwhelming. No one could tell I was crying as my tears blended into the water, and I always felt better when I got out.
As I sat there on an early October day I could feel the almost imperceptible change in the air. It was 99 degrees but the cedar elm leaves were starting to drop on the cement around the pool. And in the evening there was a slight coolness in the air as I got out of the water. The atmosphere and the season were changing. This time of year I am never sure if I will have another chance to swim tomorrow, when that cold front makes the water just too cold. And then the sad realization that swimming is over until next year hits me. New activities will take the place of swimming over the winter months, but as I walk by the cold, empty pool, I can’t help but wish for an early spring and reflect on how that pool has become an integral part of my life, a part that I miss.
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