My mom can’t swim; she never has been able to. This is commonplace for many Newfoundlanders of her age group, despite the fact they grew up on an island, next to the sea. Her dad was a fisherman, and he couldn’t swim either. I honestly don’t think any of her sisters and brothers can swim. Because of mom’s fear of water, she made sure, 100% sure, that none of her children would grow up with the same fear. We were all enrolled in swimming lessons early on, and I remember helping my brother and youngest sister learn to brave the deeper water in the pool of our next-door neighbours. Because of mom’s determination, we can all swim, and we all love the water, especially the beach. She gave that to us.
I remember all the years that mom, a woman who can’t swim, took us kids to a lake or a beach. Just her and five kids amid all the mess that accompanies a trip to the lakeside: blankets, towels, sun-screen, food and drink. Mom is an avid reader but didn’t read while she sat on a blanket on the sand as she was too pre-occupied watching us children, always keeping us in sight even if a life-guard was on duty. (Shame more parents weren’t as diligent). As I grew older it was part of my job to help Mom and keep my eyes peeled for the others. It wasn’t hard as I was usually in the water with them.
One such day, my sister and I were messing around in the water at a lake that wasn’t familiar to us, as mom had taken us there with her friend Gail. This lake had quite a steep drop off that we were warned about. We must have been fairly young because Tawny wasn’t confident about swimming over her head yet. She was on my back as I walked back and forth along the edge of the drop off. I’m sure you know what’s coming here: I misjudged my step and over we went; and it was deep, incredibly deep, over my head by at least four feet. I could see the wall of the drop off as I was pushed down. You see, my sister was trying to climb from my back onto my shoulders in her quest to keep her head above water. It was terrifying, I think more so for Tawn, even if I had to remember not to breath in. I knew that I was going to have to try and get my sister off my shoulders if I was to get my head back above water. Eventually, I did. I grabbed my sister and pulled us back to firm footing. I then looked for my mom on shore, hoping she hadn’t seen us but she had. The look of horror on her face was plain. When we walked over to her on the shore it was obvious she had been crying. As she hugged us she exclaimed that she had been crying out for someone to help us, that we were drowning and no one would help. I tried to assure her that it wasn’t that bad, it was only a few minutes, but I can’t imagine her angst that day on the beach thinking that her children were going to drown and no-one was going to help (there wasn’t a life-guard on duty). But we were ok… it was ok. Because she had made sure we weren’t afraid of water, and had learned to swim, because I was always built like a line-backer while my sister was the size of a coat-hanger, it was ok. I saved us. I will always try to save us, no matter how we are flailing about – because that is what we do for each other. Mom taught us that.
Mom sees her oncologist today (whom she finds very attractive by the way) and is getting marked for her radiation. Thursday, she begins her third round of chemo.