We bobbed in the water, heads peeking out expectantly as our swim coach walked the length of the pool casually tossing something to each swimmer.  I felt like a dolphin at Sea World waiting for a sardine to be dropped into my open, slightly smiling mouth.

Instead of sardines, we were given small beepers to tuck into our swim caps.  The beepers emitted an annoyingly cheerful chirp as we attempted to set a pace that matched our strokes to the beeps – kind of like a metronome for swimmers.

Beepers are awful.  But they’re also kind of awesome.  They make me work hard and pay attention.  I’m pretty sure that Michael Phelps’ mind doesn’t wander while in the middle of a workout, but it is amazing how many things I can think of during 25 short yards.  To wit:

Ow, that stroke kind of pinched my shoulder.
My son said his shoulder hurt last night.
Is it because he practiced pitching yesterday?
Maybe nine year olds shouldn’t be pitching yet.
Should I have given him Advil this morning?
I probably should make something anti-inflammatory for dinner.
Like a nice big salad.
Oh, wait, the NCAA basketball championship is on tonight. 
Everyone will want to eat dude food in front of the TV.
Ha ha, that’s funny: duuuuuuude foooooood.
Sounds like something Guy Fieri would eat.
I bet his car smells like stale farts and Axe body spray.
Ew.  Un-think!  Un-think!

I reach the wall, flip, and start the dialog all over again.  I don’t know what makes me more tired, swimming or the hamster wheel my mind runs on while I swim.

But the beeper changes all of that.  My mind can’t wander while I’m trying to keep pace with the nagging chirp in my ear so I end up focused and faster.  I left the pool today feeling like I accomplished something – and wishing that I could wear a beeper the rest of the day.  I certainly could stand to be focused and faster on land as well as in the pool.

Sadly, without the beeper, I’m a disaster.  I sit down to write but then jump up to put a hunk of meat in the Crock Pot as soon as I type “dude food.”  I Google Guy Fieri to see if he seems like the type to hold a grudge.  I write a paragraph but then notice a squirrel scaling our screen door. He looks like a tiny, furry flasher exposed against the glass, so obviously there’s only one thing I can do: grab my phone and attempt to snap a photo that could be used for next year’s Valentine’s Day card.  My husband is a lucky guy.

I try to summon the lesson from this morning’s workout, turning the cheerful beep into a scolding buzz with every wayward thought: dinner, buzz; Guy Fieri, buzz; squirrel junk, buzz.  Squirrel Junk.  That would make a great band name.  I wish I played guitar.  Am I too old for lessons?  I should take guitar lessons.  I wish Sting taught guitar lessons.  We could sing Roxanne.  Roxanne is a nice name.  I wonder whatever happened to that band Roxette…  Buzz.


On Being a Rookie in a Town of Experts…

I live in a town where swimming is kind of a big deal, the same way high school football in Texas is kind of a big deal.  It seems like everyone around here is a swimmer: you can’t snap a pool towel without hitting at least one Olympian, probably three.

I, on the other hand, am decidedly not a swimmer.  Sure, I can get across the pool but I’m not a swimmer swimmer — the kind of person who has an effortless butterfly stroke and can execute a flip turn all while managing to somehow not look goofy in a swim cap.  Yet despite being a rookie in a town of experts, I recently joined a masters swim team.

After my first practice, I attempted to describe my complete lack of skills to my mom, who — always the mom, always the optimist, (moptomist?) — said, “I’m sure you’re great.”  No.  Objectively, I’m awful.  If I manage not to crash into anyone while doing backstroke, it’s only because I’m tangled in the lane line like a dolphin in a tuna net.  While the rest of the swimmers cut gracefully through the water, I flail for an hour until practice is over and then drag myself out of the pool; nauseous from all the water I accidentally swallowed, wobbly with exhaustion and happy.  Very, very happy.

Happy because I can’t remember the last time I learned a new skill.  Happy because my brain is lit up with all the new things to think about.  Happy because for the first time in quite a while, I’m able to check my ego at the door and not care about how ridiculous I look while attempting something new.

I’m reading an insightful book by Brené Brown called Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.  She reminds us we can’t wait until we’re perfect or bulletproof before finally putting ourselves out there.  I’ve missed a lot of opportunities while waiting for my ducks to get into a neat little row.  Inevitably, there’s one stubborn duck not willing to line up.  I’ll never be perfect.  I’ll never be bulletproof.  Meanwhile, life, and the opportunities it offers, marches on. Swimmers are swimming.  Writers are writing.  It’s better to join them and see what happens instead of watching from a safe but boring distance.

So I walk around in a bathing suit without the security of a cover up.  I squeeze into a swim cap that makes me look, oddly enough, like a penis. I put on goggles that make my eyes bug out, changing my look to a surprised penis.  And then I swim.  It’s not pretty, but I’m out there, splashing around with my one stubborn unaligned duck, happy in the effort of daring greatly.


Hiking the hills…

The text messages start flying first thing in the morning – “meet u at lower parking lot”  “don’t forget water” “leaving now, see u soon”  I wonder how my friends manage to find the time to send texts (with emoticons even!) while I’m frantically slugging coffee and slapping together turkey sandwiches with extra mustard.  I must ask them their secret to calm mornings once we’re on the trail.

With the simple slide of a minivan door and a quick “love you, have a great day,” I can slip out of mom mode into friend mode, if only for an intense hour of hill climbing.

We start hiking and settle into easy conversation, bouncing between topics and enjoying the ability to drop an f-bomb without having to put a dollar into the swear jar.  Parenting experts tell us that kids are most willing to share feelings when they’re riding in a car – something about lack of direct eye contact, if I remember correctly.  I think the same theory applies to exercising with friends.  The only other thing that comes close to fostering such banter is a bottle or two of wine, which might be frowned upon at 8:30 in the morning.

I finish the hike with heavy legs but a light heart and start mentally flipping through the pages of my calendar, looking for my next available morning to schedule some freedom in the hills.