Just Barely Treading Water


My comfort zone!

The other day a good friend, who knew that I had undertaken a big writing project, asked me how busy I was. I responded by saying that I was barely treading water. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized how ridiculous they sounded and both my friend and I burst out into fits of laughter. Anyone who knows me well, also knows how improbable that image is. You see, I don’t know how to swim, I can’t tread water, and I seldom venture into water that is more than chest deep.

It wasn’t always that way. In fact, when I was a youngster I loved the lake, so much so, that my parents were often concerned for my safety. There I would be, bravely heading out to deeper water to keep up with my friends. Sometimes I would be standing on my tiptoes to keep my nose above the surface.

After years of pretending to be a swimmer, I realized that this wasn’t much fun, so in my early 20’s I decided to take swimming lessons. My husband and I were attending university summer classes in Saskatoon, so I felt this would be a great opportunity to enrol in an adult beginner class.

I was a bit nervous on my first day, but it turned out to be a resounding success! We students bobbed our heads under water until some confidence was gained and then we learned how to float. “This is going to be fantastic!” I thought and could scarcely wait to tell my husband about my newly-discovered aquatic skills.

On the second day we ventured into the deep end, but stayed near the edge of the pool. There we experimented with taking deep breaths, letting ourselves sink under water, and then feeling our air-filled lungs propel us back to the surface. Knowing that I would not stay under water, gave me even more confidence.

But then along came day 3 and I hit a snag in the learning curve. For whatever reason, our young instructor (I swear he looked about 14 years old.) decided we should jump off the diving board. He hadn’t thought this next step through very well, because none of us had yet learned how to tread water. But everyone else jumped off …well, you get the idea.

When it came to my turn, I took a deep breath and jumped in. The shock of hitting the water made me expel all the air in my lungs which meant that this time I went down, but was not shooting back up. Of course, I panicked, swallowed a bunch of water and had to be fished out with a long pole. Not my finest moment!

After that incident, I refused to venture into the deep end. No persuading or reasoning made me trust my instructor, who, I felt, had let me down. (Quite literally!) I did not give up completely and was still wanting to learn how to tread water, but try as I might I couldn’t get the hang of it. One day, in total frustration, I asked the instructor what I was doing wrong.

He replied, “I don’t quite know, but you’re doing something wrong with your arms and legs.”

That was my breaking point and I hissed back, in a very aggressive manner, “Of course I’m doing something wrong with my arms and legs. I don’t need to be a swimming instructor to figure that out!”

After that he stayed far away from me and I never did learn how to tread water, as a matter of fact, I developed a fear of water. It turns out that while I might have been a decent teacher, I was a terrible student!


2 thoughts on “Just Barely Treading Water

  1. I can relate, oh yes I can! Wading in the water or dog-paddling in a shallow area is about as much as I can enjoy. Deep water? Never. And I refuse to get into any kind of boat without wearing a lifejacket. I’d look pretty silly on one of those holiday cruises.

    As a child I took swimming lessons one summer at Fishing Lake, which isn’t far from my home town (Margo). But I was afraid to put my face under water and dreaded the final test, where you had to.

    My dad thought he would help me overcome this fear by making me practise at home in the bathtub. It was well intentioned, but it was an ordeal that only made things worse. I’m now a landlubber; I love to be near water, but not necessarily in it.


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