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Sink or Swim

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Where am I? That seems to always be the first thing I want to start with — I’m on my friend Jeni’s couch in her gorgeous, ultra-feminine, authentically boho office. I’m housesitting for two weeks and besides obsessively brushing her corpulent kitty Frank, tending her abundant veg and herb garden, making at least two meals a day creatively featuring zucchini and finally getting my Substack set up, I’m also minding the kids in the pool. Edit that to say one kid, my two big girls are at their first overnight camp (gasp! certainly much more to share on this coming soon) so it’s just Miss Plum.

Edie Plum is freshly four years old, she’s a wildling, a vibrant being, a complete blessing to our family. We almost didn’t have her, that’s a story for another time too (is someone keeping track of these subjects?). When Edie was two we lived in Costa Rica for six months, it was a gloriously adventurous time where we left everything we had amassed in a couple decades in Canada and leapt to sunnier (and freer) shores in the south. We were beach and/or poolside daily, really the days revolved around getting into the water and our little third daughter became a swimmer just before we packed it up to head back home.

In Canada, as you might assume, we have sorely less opportunity for daily swimming and our 14 months of being back meant Edie approached swimming this summer with apprehension, forgetting her fishy past. This summer was lining itself up to be yet another adventurous one as we left our quaint and beloved Barriefield village rental for…well, we didn’t know.

[If this is your first time reading my writing, here’s briefly what you have missed: I’m one of those ‘throw backs’, married to my high school sweetheart, both of us are entrepreneurs and business owners, raising three fierce and kind young ladies, I love everything domestic and my ultimate vision is getting a chunk of land where I create the most gorgeous and productive wee homestead with a communal vibe. I’m a true homemaker with a twist; we’ve been pretty much nomadic for the past 4.5 years, starting with a 3 month RV tour of the US and western Canada, followed by moving to a 200 year old limestone farmhouse, then a 6 month sojourn to sunny Costa Rica and now back here to our hometown where we’re deciding (along with divine timing) if this is where we ultimately put down roots and create the dream. We’ve leapt into the unknown time and time again and so far, we’ve always landed in pretty good shape amongst awesome people and some rad accommodations.]

Ok so that brings us to now, where we yet again were moving but didn’t have the full picture of where we would land. I took my friend Leanne’s advice and chose ‘organized chaos’ as our summer theme. We’ve since found a rental (more to come!) for end of August but we’re spending these few weeks bridging the gap from one home base to the next with a slew of friends houses, housesitting gigs, and travel. It’s the best of summer on a budget and the best part of it has got to be that each house has a pool.

I had one summer in my childhood where we had a pool but beyond that for reasons I don’t fully understand, pools seem very few and far between in this part of the world. Ok sure we have a good seven months of winter, BUT our fleeting summers are hot AF. We’re lucky to live in cottage country (not lucky enough to actually have a cottage though) so we live at lakes and friends’ pools all summer long. There’s nothing better than that immediate relief cool water brings on hot, muggy days.

We spent the first three weeks of July with friends who have a great pool, the kind I remember as a kid, with the shallow end sloping slippery-fast into the deep end. Edie got brave enough in that time to ditch her life jacket - fully supervised of course - and rely on her tippy toes to keep her head out of water. With her big sister Gracie’s help she would skim the bottom of the pool just briefly touching every few strokes as needed for that reassurance.

When we moved to our friend Jeni’s pool it was a different story. The whole pool is the same depth, about four feet. Uh oh. No more tippy toes bringing security. So here’s what happened:

Edie Learns to Swim (and what it taught me about life):

  1. When there is no safety of the shallow end you have three options; you either choose to skip getting in the pool altogether, you don the floatie and give up on swimming independently or you get brave and choose to go where your toes can’t touch. In life this looks like choosing to not have the experience at all or half-assing it and going for the known outcome, in both scenarios no growth occurs but in the latter you can at least say you’re trying. Or you choose to get uncomfortable and let go of the edge, you purposely explore new territory and you trust that you’re going to be buoyed enough to keep your head above water.

2. Your body and your mind will likely have different plans; Edie would hold my hands and yell “I can’t do this!” at the exact same moment she was already pulling her fingers from mine, her body propelling her through the scary experience of uncharted waters. Our minds want desperately to protect us from danger, from the unknown, but our body (or hearts) hold the intelligence to go forward anyway. Also our mind sometimes likes to pretend it doesn’t know what to do, even if it’s done this before. Edie couldn’t remember swimming a full year ago, she couldn’t fathom standing at the edge of the pool and just jumping in, but her body remembered. Instinct will kick in, our body can take over and our mind will soon be like oh, hey, look I’m doing it! Now enter the phase of “mom watch me, watch this, did you see me, are you watching, look it!” for the rest of time.

3. When there’s no other option, you can adapt; with the safety of our friends shallow pool Edie might just happily stay there, splashing in the safe zone, never letting her feet come up off the ground. When we force discomfort, we force growth. When we moved into the huge limestone house inn 2020, it was a financial leap for us - the rent was double, it needed furniture for all its vast space and the heating bills were alarming. I laid awake anxious in my bed for the first week thinking why did I ever choose this, what was I thinking?? But then a message came to me “when more is required of me, I will become more”. Suddenly I had different work opportunities, and creative ideas and ways to create the income I’d needed to stretch to the new level required of me. I adapted to the new circumstance when I surrendered to the pressure.

4. Do all things with grace and support; Edie didn’t race up to the pool that was too deep for her to touch the bottom and just jump in, saying f*ck it to regard for her safety. Even at four she has the reverence to be mindful. And she has her parents of course literally swimming alongside. I went from holding her “hams” (as she calls hands and I hope she never stops) from the steps until she was ready to let go, to swimming with a pool noodle right beside her if she wanted to latch onto it for a break, to swimming just behind her in case she seemed to not be able to make it, to watching from the edge as she swam the distance completely solo. Not to be blasphemous but I was essentially her god, her universal support system. That’s available to all of use, selected by your set of beliefs, at any time. You’re never swimming solo, you’ve always got this higher power holding you aloft and you get to choose what level of support you need — a hand steadying under your belly as you kick your legs for the first time, reaching out fingers just ahead of you to coax you forward, or just observing you with such fierce unwavering love that you can feel how secure you are in every cell of your body. How rad is that??

5. Challenge creates strength; I don’t toss around the word ‘resilience’ much, I’m not one to brush off traumatic experiences as character building. But I do know that resilience is a natural phenomenon, a trait garnered through our experiences and fostered over time. As Edie kicked her legs and paddled her arms through the slight resistance of the water she built the muscle, the strength, to go a bit further each time. She built the ability to get a few feet closer to the other side each time she struck out. If we think of resistance in terms of weight-training we see it as a valuable tool that empowers us, not disempowers us. Sometimes when things are just humming along in life and we’re feeling on top of our game we’ll suddenly find a wrench thrown in where we least expected it. Is it self-sabotage or is it actually us knowing that we need consistent peaks and valleys in order to keep life unfolding? There’s wisdom in knowing that accessing a flow state of life doesn’t mean it’s devoid of challenge, it means that you become better equipped to manage and succeed despite inherent challenge. Life holds tension, but as a string instrument makes the most beautiful music when properly tuned, we can use the tension of life harmoniously.

6. The best time to start is now; Edie wavered on the step of the pool, pondering if she could do this. I heard her little voice coaching herself “I can do this, yes I can, now.” Determination and also presence. When faced with choice, with a leap into the unknown, with needing to let go of what’s safe, there is no good time. There is only, ever, now. I have been sitting on creating a Substack account for two years, I have been deliberately not learning how to do it, not taking the steps for it, thinking I should wait until all three kids were in school perhaps. Surely I couldn’t expand my work over the summer? We’re nomadic, I’m living out of suitcases, I’m not even operating my already established business! Enough. I’m doing it now, the setup page of this platform made my brain feel like it would explode so I didn’t even do it…I’m just here to write, the rest will work itself out.

I’m going to just hit publish on this, I’m not even editing it, I’ve sat on it long enough as it is. I’m going to take Edie off the iPad I shamelessly let her play on for the last hour so I could write this and we’re going to leap back into the pool. Sink or swim baby, you choose.

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