Alternate Breathing

She is wrapped in a towel before practice, waiting patiently on deck while her new coach introduces herself, explains what is expected. Her body stays hidden until she carefully slips into the water, shedding her protective skin poolside. I hold my breath, watching. She is a speck in the water, her blue capped head bobbing up and down the lane. Arms dart out in front, one after the other, stroke after stroke, stroke after stroke. Legs pedaling hard. It looks tedious. I am doubtful this new interest will last. There is no precedent indicating she will work hard, exert herself more than what is minimally required. Sure, we’ve been attending soccer games for nine years, but it is not a strong desire to be aggressive that drew her to the goalie position. She doesn’t like to run. Luckily, she had size on her side, wasn’t afraid to use her body to block balls, or barrel over other girls. And her legs are strong. Kicks sail across the field. Soccer uniforms are big and baggy, hide lots of flaws. She blended in with her teammates. Now she is older, and her teammates’ figures have begun to emerge, their height stretching them lean. She feels conspicuous in her roundness. I tell her all the time she is beautiful, but she doesn’t feel it, doesn’t see it. “You’re my mom, you have to say that,” she says in frustration. Shopping for practice swim-suits ended in tears. Her flushed face, and sweaty cheeks, exited the fitting room as she threw the discarded items at me. “I hate them all.” I hold my breath, try not to respond harshly. Now, she is standing before me, towel-less, dripping wet. Her breathing is hard and even. It has been a long two-hours. “Well? How was it?” I ask apprehensively. “Awesome! I definitely want to join the team, ” she says catching her breath, smiling. “Why? Tell me why you want to be on the swim team.” I’m cringing at the thought of 7:45 a.m. summer practices all week and hours and hours sitting on hard bleacher seats watching meets. I’m picturing her whining about wanting to quit halfway through the season. “Because it was so peaceful in the water, mom. All I could hear was my body, ” she says, ” I felt strong. I felt weightless.” I finally exhale.

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