Mommy doesn’t go under water, I explained to the kids when they asked me to jump off the diving board. Mommy doesn’t like getting her hair wet.
I hadn’t been under water for a decade at least, except for the few times I went down the Victoria Park waterslide and accidentally slipped under — cursing myself for soaking my hair days before it was due to be washed.
I spent the first few days of our vacation reading by my dad and stepmom’s pool and casually dog-paddling — my hair safely gathered up in a tight bun. On the third day, I decided to borrow my six-year-old’s new mask and snorkel for a minute. I loosened it, wrestled it over my gigantic head of hair and slipped down into the pool.
I couldn’t breathe for a second, but it had nothing to do with the cheap plastic snorkel.
It was startlingly familiar down there. The slope from the shallow end to the deep end. The rounded curves of the scalloped edges near the diving board. The drain, the depth, the jets — everything was exactly as I’d remembered it. It was like, “Oh, hello. You’re still here. You’re just the way I left you.”
This is what I’d done, day after day, for more summers than I could remember. I had a black rubber mask, snorkel and fins that would get too hot if I left them baking in the southern Ontario sun. As a kid who refused to open her eyes underwater — I still never have, actually — that mask was everything. I could escape the sun (and my little sister) by sinking down in the cool water where I couldn’t hear anything or anyone.
While my kids ran around on the pool deck with my husband, the water filled up my ears with a lulling silence. I didn’t even kick my feet. I just floated, face-down, listening to myself breathe in and out. I could feel the sun on the back of my head, but I couldn’t see anything but the deep blue pattern of the new liner — more interesting than the pale blue one we had back then. I looked the way my hands and toes were covered with tiny bubbles as I moved them. I watched tendrils of my hair float out in front of me.
Eventually I had to give the mask and snorkel back (darn kids wanting their own possessions), so I drove back to Walmart the next morning and bought an adult-sized set. Flippers, too. I used to love my flippers but they were lost or broken somewhere along the way, after I stopped caring. I bought a swim cap so I could go in whenever I wanted without fretting about getting my hair wet. I dropped $100 at the register for the second time in two days, happily.
It took two of us to yank the swim cap down over my head and clip the mask over it so it didn’t pop off and the flippers needed a lot of adjusting. But soon I was blissfully floating around in my own little world.
I had an underwater view as our youngest kicked her way around the shallow end and our oldest bravely jumped off the diving board for the first time. I quietly swam up behind my husband and tried to pants him — darn that tightly-tied drawstring — and discovered I could still do underwater handstands and somersaults. I delighted the kids by doing the “pretend you’re walking along the diving board and suddenly you fall in” gag.
When I bought our son that child-sized mask and snorkel, on a whim, I never thought I’d end up buying my own the very next day. I never thought I’d rediscover the peace of slipping below the surface and listening to myself breathe. Floating, all alone. And even getting my hair wet.