Long Stories

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Family of Water Lovers

I am a water baby, born and raised by water lovers. Trevor is too, though our childhood experiences were different. I was a pool kid, and his parents raised him on/behind boats.

My mom grew up swimming in the lake until our club pool opened in the 1950s. She joined the swim team and choreographed synchronized swimming water shows. She and my uncle became lifeguards, swim instructors, and pool managers. No wonder my brother and I followed in their footsteps. Water is in our blood!

My grandparents lived in the Seattle Area, too. My grandma liked sailing with her sister, no matter the weather, around Lake Washington “before the bridge,” she’d say, in a boat her dad built. My grandpa did many things, including lifeguarding… he surfed a wooden board behind a motorized boat at Camp Sambica (from what we’ve deduced) on Lake Sammamish (the 1930s version of wake surfing?!) To build our pool in the 50s, my grandparents rallied with their neighbors, door-belling, purchasing property, and recruiting membership throughout their community… now, Seattle club pools are such a hot commodity, the waiting lists are more than 10 years long. In 2017, new members had waited 13 years to join ours.

My Journey into Momhood

When I became a mom, I had zero experience with newborn babies. Zero. I directed my focus and energy into learning about babies. In my role as a new parent, I leaned heavily on my years of teaching elementary school and swimming lessons to grow my knowledge base. During pregnancy, I attended prenatal yoga classes, and read up on ways to take my health – mainly, my environment and diet – more seriously. Friends with babies offered fountains of information. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, though… I didn’t prepare my mind and body for labor and delivery, or postpartum recovery.

Once Molly was in the world, my ideas on parenting shifted and evolved into a collective mass as I retained some beliefs and let others go. To put into words all the ways parenthood changed us individually and as a unit would be impossible. Choosing family goals was one of the ways in which we adapted to the changes. A close friend of mine labeled my feelings perfectly: stewardship; we became stewards of Molly’s life, making decisions on her behalf. But I still hadn’t addressed my self’s needs, and eventually it caught up with me.

I focused on developing my relationship with Molly. I practiced listening to my gut (and sometimes failing, like the time I thought her white tongue was an infection when it was actually breast milk, or the time I thought she was teething but she had an ear infection), sought experts on topics about development and talked with her doctors about her specific needs (we now see a pediatrician and a naturopath), participated weekly in a local parent/baby group led by parenting coaches, and reflected on the ways in which I fulfilled Mom duties. I took excellent care of her, and in the process, realized my husband and I needed the same level of care and consideration.

Parenthood is a complex system… and as I look back on our journey, I cannot ignore how committing to a vision we wanted for a family has led us down a path of gifts and hurdles alike.

The stress of learning “parenting” is real. And so was the entirety of postpartum (for me.) Not only did I actually feel anxious that I wasn’t as anxious about parenting as other new moms (and therefore, probably doing it wrong without realizing it), having a baby changed my body in ways that made me feel very disconnected from it. I hadn’t realized how connected to my body I’d been, or imagined how changes to my core muscles, hair density, or vision would be so impactful to my sense of self. I had known my body before, and it was mine. After having Molly, I needed to let go, get to know, and embrace my body in its changed form.

I knew I was an imperfect person, that perfection was impossible, yada yada. But I didn’t know which imperfections were harmful to me and holding me back. I’m not even sure that’s the right way to explain my feelings. Regardless, finding out my needs took serious time. Then, dedicating myself to my needs enough to feel the results required serious time. I needed to do so in a process that felt familiar, and I’m so lucky I found people I connected with and learned from.

How I Reached My Self

Self-care gathers momentum over time when the best people for you get involved.

I started swimming laps again when Molly was about 6 months old. It had been more than 10 years since I had swum with a real coach and team. Swimming with a Masters coach pushed me toward a fitness level I’d been at in high school. Having grown up in the pool, I feel free underwater. An indoor pool takes me back to my high school swimming days. The smells and sounds of an indoor pool invigorate me. Chlorine in the air and on my skin afterward, the vague echo-y instructions called out by a coach, the rhythmic sounds of my breath or the thunderous kicks from a line of lap swimmers. These familiarities helped me repair connections from my spirit to my body. I tightened the ab muscles I’d lost in pregnancy. Calf muscles grew back. I internalized words of encouragement. This felt like me. 

I started attending a weekly yin yoga class. I found an evening class and met a teacher who leads beautiful meditations, and encourages her yogis to listen to their bodies and not to sit with pain. Yin yoga encourages the flow of energy, Qi, through the organs, and I found my mental health drastically improving with regular practice. My worries grew smaller and less dramatic, and my gratitudes grew greater and more frequent. My instructor is a positive voice of wisdom for me now.

I started seeing a naturopathic doctor. She took a blood test and interpreted my levels in conjunction with my family history in a way that approached my health from the inside out. She recommended supplements and diet adjustments to help increase my energy. My naturopath became another positive force of support for me.

I started seeing a pelvic floor specialist. More than a year after Molly’s birth, I peed my pants walking up our stairs. Not a lot, but enough to say to myself, “Girl, you just peed a little.” Fortunately, I’d heard of an amazing local therapist through the parent/baby group I attended, and I’m forever glad to have met her. She addressed my issues with enthusiasm, humor, and empathy. Her vast understanding of anatomy helped me incorporate yoga into the process of reawakening muscles and recovering control.

I started visiting a counselor. Part of my journey to feeling whole again included addressing my anxieties, and definitely prioritizing my needs by making them known.

When I speak of self-care and time commitments, the important thing to know is that I had dedicated years to school, sports, growing into my teaching career, socializing, traveling, marriage, and homeownership, but neglected to give myself to me first. I’d accepted a lot of the world’s recommendations of the ways to live my life. Having Molly allowed me to slow down enough to listen to the beat of my own drum again. It reminded me of being 5 years old, which made me think I’d spent most of my schooling and career striving to live by the beat of a different drummer.

You might be wondering how I managed to carve out this gift of Time. It could be attributed to my mom, for when my husband and I got married, we knew I would stay home with our children for awhile. We lived on my salary and saved all of his for more than 3 years, so when I gave birth to Molly, I took a leave of absence from my teaching job. Time has become the most important driver of decisions in my life since giving birth. My Time is valuable, and I’ve learned that spending some of it on my self-care lifts my spirit, and by doing this, I’m happy. I’m a better mom, a better wife, a better friend, and a better teacher.

All of these elements + Time have brought me to a place of peace in my life as a parent.

Parenting + Bath Time

The influences I wrote about in the above sections made me the parent I am today. Starting with Molly’s very first bath, my intention was clear: to help her learn to love the water. If you have read this far, you are here to help your baby love the water, too. I believe you can start anytime, with the 1,000th bath, as long as you meet your child where she is. As I mentioned above, for me, parenting is stewardship over another person’s life.

Molly’s responses give me clues and insights into how she felt during each step of bath time. I’m certain that by paying close attention to Molly, I have gotten to know her well. By knowing her well, I can respond to her in ways that meet her needs and establish trust. We have knit ourselves a strong bond.

We have a saying in education that “one size doesn’t fit all,” which means that we all learn in unique ways. What might work well for some may not work as well for others. To make the most of my time with Molly, I like to apply a trifecta of teaching strategies to appeal to all the ways in which she might learn.

Listening, seeing, and trying are all ways Molly learns. I started talking to her right away. I use swimming language in our everyday moments, like when I change her diaper, and ask her to show me a back float to get her to lay on her back. On walks to the dog park, we cross over a stream, and pause to watch the “back floating bugs” move across the water. Just as parents point out words on signs and in books to make the language connection to reading, I like to point out language / swimming connections.

Molly made the leap from bath time to loving the pool over time. It was simple and easy to transition to a swimming pool within the first 6 months of her life. I knew it could and would be.

Before Molly’s very first bath, I searched and searched for any information that explained the bathing to swimming connection, or explained how to do it. I didn’t find bathing information grounded in research, and much of the information available did not sit well in my gut (specifically, I didn’t like the concept of sponge bathing.) The Internet did not deliver what I was looking for. That’s about the time when I thought to myself, “How about me?”

I’m a water lover for its therapeutic and fitness benefits, and we are a boating, wake surfing, and swimming family; we want our children to grow up feeling natural in the water, while making safe choices and behaving respectfully around it. I’m also a firm believer that children learn best through a combination of discovery and coaching. I made it my mission to nudge Molly in the direction of loving the water and learning swim skills as soon as she was born.

It’s gratifying to see Molly learning through safe exploration of her world.

Blog Lovin’

Two breakthroughs influenced my next steps. The first was the impulse to get into the tub with Molly, and after I learned how to bathe her, submerge her up to her shoulders in her baby tub. The second was the overwhelming feeling to help parents who wanted to teach their babies to love the water and to grow into safe swimmers. This urge grew so strongly that it compelled me to start my blog. The responses have been so positive, and more importantly, I’m listening to what calls to me and I am SO HAPPY I did it.

Gradually, I began stockpiling parenting and early childhood development books by authors I trusted. I connected with like-minded moms in my community, we traded more authors and podcasts and experiences. My parenting philosophies wrapped around my beliefs as an educator. And I began writing more about Molly’s growth and how we’d gotten there. I wanted my blog to be authentic, realistic, and offer approaches that could be tailored to individuals’ needs.

Nearly a year after launching, my blog received a little “rocket booster.” I came upon a study on newborn bathing techniques, conducted and written by labor and delivery nurses in Canada, that turned everything I had ever heard about newborn baths on its head. You can read more about it on my post Infant Bathing Techniques, Part 1: Newborns & the Best First Bath. The study propelled my writing… it simply represented hard facts I could attach to my early experiences bathing Molly. The study drew research-based conclusions for newborn bathing, and I could finally draw the conclusion that the most common advice isn’t necessarily the best advice for everyone. One size doesn’t fit all.

I began the Pool Mom blog with the hopes of reaching as many parents as I can who want to a.) learn about the ins and outs of introducing wee ones to the water, and b.) teach their babies safety, skills, and especially, to love the water.