Today was a swirl of the kind of anxious, gnawing worry that often accompanies parenthood. A sick daughter in a faraway country, a flurry of stress as we try and figure out how to get her home. I put my swimming clothes on at 7:15 in the morning and didn’t get into the water until 3:00 pm.
Having a sick daughter in another country is an excellent metaphor for the general experience of parenting—You care so much it hurts, but the actual steps you can take to control the outcome are severely limited. Today we did what we could to help Eliza: we made phone calls, got her a flight, shopped for all the healthy foods we’ll feed her when she gets home. It took an hour or so, but when it was over, I continued to bend, pretzel-like, over my computer, adrenaline pumping, doom scrolling the Internet. Long after I’d done all the things in my power to be helpful, I couldn’t let go of the anxiety; the feeling that I should be doing more. That I should fix this.
But then I got in the water.
The shock of the cold immediately turns my brain off; I am only body. Only the sensation of cold. It’s like a breath that catches mid-chest and stays there, suspended. It’s impossible to be anything but in the moment. Slowly, the cold becomes exhilarating as the feeling of warm liquid pours into my core, and the parts of me that touch the water tingle and dance. Energy courses through me.
Today I swam at the Berkeley Marina with Arwen and Angie. It’s our favorite place for an afternoon swim—seemingly less windy in the afternoons than our usual morning spot, the Albany Bulb. The day had been cloudy and drizzly, but the sun came out when we arrived at the water, as if just for us. Giddy with the gorgeous afternoon, we swam further than we have in a while. It’s hard to remember that we can’t go as far as we could in the summer and fall. Back then the water was in the high 60s; now it’s in the low 50s (even sometimes less). Our way back was less chatty and frolicking and I had an anxious moment of thinking we’d overdone it, that we wouldn’t get back to the dock before hypothermia set in. But, unlike the anxiety from earlier in the day, which clattered around my brain with nothing solid to grab hold of, here there was a clear solution: put my head down and swim. So I did and everything was fine.
By the time I got out of the bay a half-hour later, shivering and happy, I’d left all the extra worries in the water. I imagine them sinking to the mucky bottom, swallowed by the mud. Eliza will be home tomorrow, I’ll make her soup and enjoy her presence for the next couple of weeks before she leaves for her next semester of University. And if I start to get unnecessarily worried about things out of my control, there’s always another swim tomorrow.