Updated: Sep 5, 2022
It's 1955. I'm eight years old and stand, waist deep, in the cool waters of Birch Lake. My swim instructor, Miss Evans, stands next to me. A Campfire Girl fledgling, I'm a young 'Bluebird' and Miss Evans is encouraging me to test my wings.
“Barbara, be sure to keep your body straight, your legs together and your arms above your head. When you are ready, take a deep breath, hold it, and slowly fall forward. Imagine you are as light as a leaf floating on the water. Don't worry, I'll support you."
Miss Evans' voice, soft and gentle, is easy to obey. I raise my arms toward the sky and stand as straight as a tree trunk. I pretend I'm as light as a maple leaf and take a deep breath and hold it before I shut my eyes and fall forward on the water. Floating face down, Miss Evans supports my waist with her finger tips and slowly removes them. For a few seconds, I float on my own.
Ready for air, I bend my knees and return to standing. I smile, ever so slightly, brushing wet strands of hair off my forehead and out of my eyes. Miss Evans says, “I knew you could do it! Good job!”
Two weeks later, my camp visit reaching an end, all the Bluebirds and Campfire Girls are taking swimming tests in order to earn certificates. Now that it's my turn, I'm asked to demonstrate what I have learned. First, I show that I can put my head under water and hold my breath. Next, I bob up and down, pushing off the squishy lake bottom with my feet in order to gulp some air before I go under again. Then I do my best to impress the instructors with my ability to face float and back float with ease.
After I pass these tests, Miss Evans surprises me and asks me to do something new. She encourages me to jump off the pier into an area where the water is deeper than I am tall and where I'm pretty sure I won't be able to bob off the bottom. Not prepared for this, my knees tremble. My heart thumps against my rib cage.
Miss Evans must not understand that I really don’t know how to swim. I look at her, my eyebrows raised with worry. She nods that everything will be okay. I take a deep breath, shut my eyes, pinch my nose, and leap into the lake. Light as a leaf, I kick my legs and slap my arms against the water as fast as I can until I return to the surface and dog paddle a whopping three feet before I grab the side of the wooden pier.
Miss Evans claps her hands and says, “Good job!"
I’m reminded of this particular childhood memory each time I watch a child learn to swim...slowly...cautiously... one tiny splash and dip at a time.
Initial awkwardness when trying something for the first time is to be expected. Be as patient with yourself as Miss Evans was with me. Relax and remain lighthearted each time you fall forward into something new.
When is the last time you did something for the first time?
What helped you succeed? How did that feel?