Sunday, May 15, 2011

Treading Water

When I was a young girl, my sister Melanie was like a fish in water. She not only tanned beautifully, she swam beautifully. She was the quintessential Southern California beach babe.

I, on the other hand, was a redheaded, fair-skinned treader. I was very, very good at treading water.

When we were in grade school, our parents kept our bathing suits and beach towels in the trunk of our car. This may seem a bit odd, but in Southern California in the 60s, not everyone had a pool in their backyard and we were a member of the pool-less club.

Often, we would head out to see friends on hot summer days, especially on Sunday afternoons following church. We would be sweating against the plastic covered back seats, wishing for a/c (something else not everyone had, and we again were part of the a/c-less crowd) until we parked at the curb in front of a friend's home and jumped out of the car. And then we would hope....!

Hope was everything on those hot days to two Southern California girls.

We were never allowed to ask our parents' friends if we could swim, even if their kids were in the pool. Even if we were sweating rivulets. Even if HOPE was beaming from our silently begging eyes. And even if Marco Polo (our favorite game) was underway.

My parents made it clear that asking was rude; so we waited, mutely counting the passing minutes of lost swim time until finally someone would comment that it was too bad we hadn't brought our suits. But wait! Weren't our suits ALWAYS in the trunk of our car? Yes!! (My mother was brilliant!)

And off we would go, my sister and me, quick-change artists diving into a deep, cool swimming pool without a moment's hesitation. One tan, one white, both thrilled to be swimming - or treading - again.

Life isn't much different than swimming. Some of us easily swim along with the flow, some choose to make it more difficult and swim upstream, some are show-offs and love to cannon ball through life, some of us never really learn to swim at all (my grandma Mimi never learned to swim, she wouldn't even fill her bath more than 2" deep for fear she would drown), and sadly, some of us do drown; then there are those of us who end up treading water when we least expect it, no matter how many swim lessons or life lessons we've experienced.

Treading is not my chosen way of life, it just happened. Swim lessons began when I was 5, and I loved them and always passed; I even certified as a Junior Lifeguard (Melanie, of course, was a full-fledged Lifeguard). The point is, I have always enjoyed swimming, but I often prefer to just tread water and watch everyone else frolic around, making mental notes as I wait to join in the fun at the right moment, or in the right game, or with the right partner.

Similarly, downtime following the loss of a job has its moments, and I've certainly made the best of them, but surrounding those fun-filled moments of travel and leisure are large pools of empty time that must be endured. So here I am, treading again, only this time I'm treading time, not water. Still watching, still making mental notes. Just waiting to jump in at the right moment, or with the right company, or for the right job.

Treading definitely has its benefits. It allows a person to save their energy, plan their strategy, breathe evenly, enjoy the view, think clearly, strengthen their talents, assess their assets (and maybe some others), and bide their time, all the while staying involved from a safe distance on the sidelines - observing quietly, considering the next move. Treading has been good for me.

Soon, as always happened in the pool, someone or something will come along and force me to take a deep breath and duck under the water with a quick push off the side, or break into a still-not-perfect crawl stroke to carry me to the other end of the pool.  In any case, I will love the rush, the thrill of change, the soothing satisfaction of knowing that, as nice as treading has been,  I can - and will - do whatever it takes to get wherever I need to be. All with appropriate exceptions, just as my parents taught me so long ago - I won't be rude, or mean, or dishonest, or unethical.

I may regret that I was never really a fish in water, but I am ever grateful that in my life I've never felt like a fish out-of-water. Even now, between jobs, between homes....I'm in a good place and treading easily.

I think I'm almost ready; I may need a little more treading time before I finally drop to the bottom, bend my legs, pump my arms and push off, but I'm close. I love that moment when I burst upwards and break through the surface with a smile on my freckled (and now wrinkled) lily-white face. I love it when life finally makes sense again, after a period of tread-ful wondering.

It feels triumphant. It feels joyous. It feels new, and life-giving, and right. It's rejuvenating. I can hardly wait!

Those are the moments we live for, we work for, we strive for, but treading is part of the plan. After all, isn't much of life spent "treading water" as we wait for those exceptional ah-ha moments of clarity, of love, and of success? What would we do in between, if not for treading? Treading keeps us honest. It keeps us busy. It keeps us out of trouble. Sometimes it saves our life.

Treading - patiently waiting, planning, pondering - has a place in our lives, even if we think we are ready to jump.  So tread on....I know I will, because as I said above, "I am very, very good at treading water."

As for Melanie, she's still tall and tan....and a swimmer, but oddly after decades of summers apart, we are finding ourselves in the same pool again. Unemployed and treading. But not for long...

Hey Melanie?