Tuesday, October 19, 2010

warm belly

our bodies have memories our brains do not- this fact has always astounded me.  my skin, my heart, my ears, my nose- all have recordings of events, of experiences that were either good or bad and they send me messages about these that i cannot always decipher.  maybe it's the same for you.  as a mom i think about this- that my children's bodies will have a reaction to things that their minds do not understand.  somewhere in their cells small bursts of "danger!" will issue out warnings that their memory will have no way to comprehend.  for me this happens when i am in a pool or a lake and i get water on my face, up my nose, trickling down the back of my throat.  my heart starts to race, i take gulping breaths of air, i panic on a physical level even as my mind is saying gently "you are in water that is three feet deep- you are not in danger.  just stand up."

for many years i attributed this reaction to memory i do have- i was about 8 years old in a pool at my dad's friend's house.  i was alone in the cool water- laying on a floating raft when it flipped over.  if i could have stood up it would have been fine- the pool wasn't that deep, but my ankle had gotten twisted in the ropes on the side of the raft so i couldn't stand up.  one of his sons noticed this and rescued me- after i had swallowed some water and was fairly upset.  this explained my anxiety about drowning, or so i thought.

one evening as i was having dinner with brother in vancouver we started chatting about our various quirks and different labels we could apply to them.  he decided he was mildly psychotic and i confessed i probably could fit on the autistic spectrum somewhere.  at some point i mentioned my swimming- i think at that time i was trying to actually learn how to swim- my fear of drowning had kept me from this- quite a feat for a girl who has almost always lived on the west coast.  my brother, rather casually said, "well, that's because you almost drowned that time."

"yeah- at pete's house.  i remember," i replied.

"no.  you were like three.  you fell into a swimming pool.  when they pulled you out you were blue."

even as i write this- sitting here without so much as a glass of water near me- i can feel fear creep into me.  i was completely shocked by this.  my brother is almost four years older than me and his memory has always been fairly good.  sure, there's a chance he is mis-remembering, attributing someone else's trauma to my life except that this instantly made sense to me.  it explains the way my body tenses involuntarily when my feet stretch through water to reach bottom and cannot find it.  it explains how when i am in water i feel emotionally incredibly alone and vulnerable even as i physically enjoy the relaxation of it.  it explains how i know what drowning feels like without having any words for it at all.

it also explains my own struggle with teaching my kids to swim.  maybe when my cells split into my sons' cells it carried some of that memory to them, or maybe they pick up on subtle cues- but both of my boys are cautious about water.  as much as they love to be in, play in it- they don't take risks in the water.  they don't fully trust it.  i've never told them about my experience and i'm not pushing fear on them.  i encourage them, tell them it's safe- but still they are hesitant.

we are enrolled in swimming lessons like so many families.  the last lesson we went to cyrus was very fearful about being in the water- he has never reacted this way before.  seren was bobbing about having a good time, even as he resisted getting his nose underwater, but cyrus was clinging and fussy.  the instructor thought maybe he was cold- the water was a bit chilly- and she recommended putting a shirt on him.  he calmed down a little bit but was still not at all at ease.

after the class the teacher showed me the little tank-style wet suit her two year-old daughter was wearing.  it had velcro straps along the shoulders so it could "grow with them" and it kept their body temperature up while they were swimming.  she said these cost about $35- and went on about how that was a good investment while i tried to envision spending $35 on any one piece of clothing, let alone on something that would worn maybe 2 hours a week.  she assured me i wouldn't be able to find any second-hand.  they were just a hot item.

i am fairly oblivious to much of the messages i get about what i "need" and what i "should" do.  this has caused some struggles.  but with this wet suit, it hit at a core spot in me: wanting desperately for my children not to fear what i fear.  seren has already described to me his nightmares- the exact nightmares i had as a child- watching a tidal wave come at me and sweep away all i knew.  so this wetsuit- if it could make cyrus more comfortable in the water- was maybe a good thing to buy.

of course, i set about trying to find one second-hand right away.  i searched craigslist, posted on craigslist, called consignment stores, went to consignment stores.  nada.  then i hit up ebay.  there were two in cy's size.  one hot pink, one neon green.  the pink sold for over $20 plus shipping- i never even bid on it.  and then i watched and waited for the final minutes of the green wet suit auction which was several days away.

meanwhile, i fussed a bit about this other feeling i sometimes get.  this frustrated feeling of not being able to afford things or experiences that i'd like to.  coupled with this tormented feeling about how i choose not to work so that i can homeschool and not put my kids in daycare.  most days i feel good about this.  i'm ok with living hand to mouth voluntarily if it means giving my kids my time and attention.  they pay me in ways more meaningful than dollars.  but on other days i daydream about what my family could DO with another $40K a year.  we could actually landscape our yard, we could build a shed, we could visit my aunts in upstate new york.  we could bring our vehicles into the shop the first time they made a weird noise and have it checked out instead of just vacuuming it and turning up the radio.  and i could buy a new wet suit for my kid instead of lurking on ebay hoping that the other bidders would be asleep during the final minutes of the bidding when i launched my bidding- which, i already decided would be no more than $15.

last night- i was suddenly struck with the need to go to goodwill.  this happens to me.  i can just see myself in the store and i know something is there waiting for me.  sometimes i am wrong- i admit.  sometimes i go and there's nothing but other people's junk.  but sometimes i find amazing treasures.  on a side note- you may live in a part of the country where thrift stores thrashy.  that is not the case here.  our thrift stores are organized like a department store and they get some high end stuff along with the strange assortment of dead people's items the families have rejected.

so i went to goodwill.  i even brought both boys which is a form of torture for me.  they cramp my shopping style.  as i walked about i noticed lots of cool stuff, things i might like, things i might use- but i passed by them all.  they weren't the item i was here for.  yes, thrifting is a spiritual experience for me- trite as that sounds.  i put requests into the universe and sometimes it delivers.

like last night, as i was looking at bike helmets for seren and i noticed this bright pink, spongy wetsuit?  yeah, just like that.  the exact wetsuit- in cyrus's size- for $6.99 waiting for me like the blessing it was.  i could almost feel the giggling of spirits around me- like they were saying, "see, nancylee, you got enough to get your boys what they need cuz we are here to help you out.  you need this to feel better about your boys swimming?  then, here it is, girl."  this morning the neon green old sold for more than $20 too- i slept right through it.

even though i can't remember much about what happened when i almost drowned- i obviously know that i did not drown.  that something sparked, a thought flashed in the minds of people near me- and they pulled me out.  that the air pushed water out of my lungs and has held me on this earth everyday since.  that when i needed someone, something- it showed up just like that warm belly wet suit in the mount vernon goodwill.

i need to write that again: when i needed someone- they showed up.

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