I swam a lot as a child. My father is a very good and very keen swimmer and he would take me, my sister and brother every Sunday morning whilst my mother prepared the hallowed Sunday Lunch. I guess I always assumed that he took us swimming purely for the love of the sport and his desire for us to share this and learn an important skill. But now as the mother of two boisterous boys who go swimming with their father every weekend, the cynic in me sees the truth.
My mother just wanted a few glorious hours to herself, peeling spuds and listening to the radio. I too revel in this time alone whilst my boys practise drowning each other and catching verrucas in the local pool. They return completely waterlogged, exhausted, starving and ready to inhale some lunch and then have some quiet time, and they don’t even need a bath before bedtime… what’s not to like?
I now see why swimming was so important to our family growing up and why in fact it may be the only thing that has kept me sane over the past few difficult years! I have swum to keep myself both sane and fit, and my husband takes my children swimming for the very same reasons.
I swim alone two or three times a week at our local and very unglamorous public swimming pool. The changing rooms are unisex and always smell of drains and mouldy swim suits (but are spotlessly clean I hasten to add) and the pool is always littered with people who seem intent on doing anything except swimming. BUT I must tell you that without this haven I would have run away or been put in a funny farm long ago.
There is an amazing, council-subsidised, crèche at the pool where I place my two boys for the grand price of £3 an hour each. Getting out of the house on time for our allotted hour has its own challenges as any mother knows. The walk to the pool presents other challenges, with one child on a scooter and then other rigid and deafening with fury as he tries to escape the straps of his buggy.
Even on the wettest, most arctic and miserable of days, when the thought of putting on a swim suit makes you shudder, it is all worth it when you get in the pool and start swimming. All the horrors of the sleepless nights, the tantrums, the poo, the sick, the spat-out food, the constant moaning and the ghastly monotony of it all suddenly seem insignificant.
I assume it is the same kind of feeling you get when you go for a run, or do a yoga class. It is an all-consuming feeling of relief and relaxation that immediately makes you feel like you can conquer the world. Nothing matters except putting your head down and kicking your legs and reaching your arms out infront of you. It is when I am swimming that I do all my thinking.
I make plans, for me, for my marriage, for my family, for my business, for my supper, for my life. I think about everything, and also nothing. But I do know that without it I might have gone mad. Raising two boys, less than two years apart has been the most testing thing I have ever done. There have been times where I have doubted myself, hated my life and wanted to sell the boys on Ebay. But swimming and the time it has allowed me to have alone has helped me to get through this tough time!
So swimming has become a focal point of not only my week, but also our weekends and any holidays we are lucky enough to take. Last summer we spent a week in Portugal with my parents and my sister’s family. Every morning, my father, sister and I would swim for about a mile in the Atlantic. It was pretty painful with a fuzzy head full of brandy and a tummy full of garlic prawns from night before, but it felt amazing and made my father so happy to be swimming with us by his side! Also, everyone knows, doing a few laps on holiday is a carte blanche for extra beers and ice creams!
And now I find myself training to Swim To Bestival. Yes, Bestival on the Isle of Wight!! I must swim across the freezing, choppy, murky Solent with 30 other people who I guess are all doing it for their own reasons.(maybe they cannot afford the ferry crossing) For me, it is an indulgent pursuit for sure, and a great excuse to be a little bit selfish and to spend a bit more time alone, training.
I also feel like perhaps things will be coming full circle because it is also an opportunity for me to raise funds for a charity that my father, the man who taught me to swim and to love to swim, is passionate about. He has led a number of trips out to Ethiopia to help train Midwives and health workers in emergency Maternity Care. An unacceptable number of women (1 in 21) in Rural Ethiopia die in pregnancy and childbirth, and with help from experts from developed countries we can help to give mothers and babies the chance the deserve.
If you would like to sponsor me the price of a victory pint of beer, I would be so grateful for any support… you can do so here!
So off I go to train in Tooting Lido (91 metres long and 14 degrees C) …but do not feel sorry for me, because as hideous as it might sound, sometimes it can be preferable to an afternoon at home with a tantruming three year old and a teething toddler.