I stared up at the blue sky, watching the clouds move only slightly slower than the line of campers moving in front of me.
Surrounded by a chain link fence, the camp’s swimming pool was the place to be that first day. One lanky kid after another passed the swimming test, celebrating with a single swipe of nail polish down their right toe to signify their newly-attained water activity privileges.
I stood in that line, biting my finger nails, hoping to pass the test and join my new-found friends. But halfway through the three-lap test, I swallowed water and began gasping for air. The lifeguard jumped in to pull me to the pool’s edge, and I slinked away, trying to hide my face in shame.
I had failed.
That night I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag in the top bunk of the cabin’s six bunk beds. Sure, there were other activities on the island, but who wanted to practice archery and paint pottery when there was water skiing, tubing, and wind surfing within reach?
So I made up my mind.
The very next day, I marched toward the swimming pool and jumped into the shallow end. For two hours I mimicked the breast strokes I had seen the successful campers do the day before, and I practiced keeping calm whenever water went up my nose. I watched as two campers asked the lifeguards if they could retake the test. One passed; the other failed. So I stayed in the pool.
The next day, halfway through the camp week, I hit the pool again, this time with more confidence. I practiced swimming laps, once, twice, three times, up to five times at once, alternating breast stroke and back stroke, simply letting myself float when I tired out. I figured if I got knocked off the boat in the middle of the lake, worst case scenario I could float until someone rescued me.
That afternoon, I passed the swimming test. I ran toward the boathouse, watching the sun reflect off my blue-and-sparkles-striped toenail. I was ready to take on the wonderful world of lake activities.
I look back on that summer camp so many years ago with fond memories, not only because I finally learned to swim, but because I had conquered my first major challenge away from home.
Even though my parents hadn’t taught me how to swim, they taught me so many other valuable life lessons:
…They taught me to face my fears instead of running away from them.
…They taught me to stay in the pool, to keep trying until I succeed.
…They taught me to work hard even when everyone else has fun.
…They taught me to break through my self-imposed limitations to discover the wide open.
…They taught me that everything is possible with God.
Now that I have daughters of my own, I’m trying to pass on the lessons.
They’re currently two and a half and eight weeks old, and while the newborn is desperately dependent on me for every little thing (as she should be), my toddler faces each new challenge with a self-assured “I can do it!” She doesn’t allow the many tumbles and fumbles from her past to define her future success. And I love her for it.
She pulls the shirt over her head and looks at me for approval, “Like this, mama?”
She jumps high on the trampoline and lands on her bottom as she yells, “Watch me, mama!”
She pumps her legs on the pedals of her tricycle as she reaches record speeds and later asks, “Did you see me, mama?”
And I nod. Yes, I see, and I catch my breath as I watch her grow into a brave and beautiful woman. Before I know it, she’ll be walking up to that swimming pool in fifth grade camp. Then she’ll be dangling keys at her driver’s test. And packing boxes for college. And walking into adulthood and the wildest adventures of them all.