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Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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Just Keep Swimming.

Submitted by on July 15, 2010 – 4:32 am4 Comments

I wonder sometimes how I survived my childhood. Seriously.

When I was very young, my family spent the summers at Varadero Beach. The entire summer. (I know. So cool, right?) You see, it was way too hot in the city (Havana) to just sit around. So we went to the beach house, Villa Obdulia, along with all the cousins.

In retrospect, I don’t remember anyone teaching me to swim.

They dragged me (!) into the water, and occasionally an uncle would let me cling to his back as he walked out to the sand bar. (I could never get there on my own being less than four feet tall, but that’s not important right now.)

But I did have a “salva vida.” A life saver. In the form of… an inflatable duck. An INFLATABLE DUCK, people! (I wish I was making this up.)

After we left Cuba, we continued our habit of spending summers at the beach – sort of. We would drive out to Crandon Park on Key Biscayne in Miami. “El Charquito.” Or The Puddle. No waves. No worries.

My sisters and I spent all of our time in the water.

It had not occurred to anyone at this point to teach us to swim. (I know. Shut up.)

Eventually, we moved to California. We lived in Santa Monica, to be exact. The water at the beach here in So Cal was cold and crazy. And there were waves. Not just the rolling-in-isn’t-that-a-soothing-sound kind of waves. The kind that tumbled you around like a washing machine.

There was an art to dealing with these monsters. You had to get really far out and close to them before they broke. Which meant going out sometimes past where we could touch.

And we got very good at praying “Ay Dios mio! Don’t let me die!”

So I’ll concede that we did get rudimentary How-To-Survive-in-Rough-Surf Lessons. But just good old-fashioned swimming lessons? Not so much.

It wasn’t until a neighbor and friend (who used to take the Cuban girls to the beach) noticed that we were more floundering than floating and so convinced my mom that she really needed to sign us up at the local YMCA for swimming lessons.

I was ten.

I’d like to point out that I had never, ever, been afraid of the water. No matter how much tumbling and near-death experiences we had, we kept going right back in.

Imagine my delight with the new-found ability to propel myself through the water by the synchronized movement of my arms and legs!

Front stroke! Back stroke! Dog paddling! Look at me go!

They even taught us how to dive. I became a diving fool. Two feet was the same as twelve feet. I was fearless.

What a wonderful thing I’d discovered!

And so, those swim lessons at the Y carried me through the rest of my life. Up until now.

We belong to our local YMCA. And from the time my kids were babies I have made sure they’ve had lessons and all four are not only water-safe, but wonderful swimmers.

We go to the Y regularly to swim laps and cool off on the days we’re not at the beach.

In my mind, I was gracefully swishing across the Olympic pool, staying in the middle of the lane lines and rhythmically crossing the length of the pool. Back and forth in a beautifully choreographed ballet.

The truth: I was sputtering and splashing and kept hitting the lane lines, and gulping for breath and swallowing water.

So, I made a cataclysmic decision: I would take adult swim lessons at the Y. (Don’t judge me.)

I found myself in class with seven other people. Many of whom were working through some life-long fears of the water. Which meant that I, with my 5th grade swim lessons, got to have an instructor all to myself.

She helped me finesse my style. Breath steadier, pull harder, kick better. And now I can swim laps like the rest of the cool kids. I even got myself goggles and a cap.

(Umm….no, I am not posting any photos of myself with the cap & goggle combo. Let’s just say I look very much like an alien. That is all. Shut up.)

I still love the water. And it’s only taken me forty-five years to perfect my stroke. ;-)

When did you learn how to swim? (Or did you?) Tell me.

“Just keep swimming.” ~ Dory, from Finding Nemo

(cross posted at MBFCF)

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  • I went to Los Banos to visit my husband’s grandparents. It is a lot hotter there than Oakland and we got to swim in their pool to cool off. Although I spent my childhood summers “swimming” in my Madrina’s pool in Miami, I am too scared to put my head under water and attempt to bring it back up to breathe. I took a swimming class in college but that was only for a month and it takes me a lot longer to learn something. (I didn’t learn how to ride a bicycle until I was 30.) At the pool with my husband he told me I just do the doggy paddle and I don’t swim. I was really offended. Then we went to the Yuba River this past weekend and I watched other people swim and I realized I still don’t know how to swim, I DO just doggy paddle. So, I commend you Marta for taking an adult swimming class. I hope one day we will get to see you in a swim cap and goggles. You are an inspiration!

  • Marta says:


    I’m impressed you learned to ride a bike at 30! Take those swim lessons. What are you waiting for?

    Marta´s last [fabulousness] ..Just Keep Swimming

  • Vanessa says:

    Learning to swim is one of my most vivid childhood memories. I will never forget being the new girl from New York in 1st grade and not knowing how to swim. When my mom first enrolled me for swim lessons at the Kendall Lakes Country Club in Miami I was excited…. when the instructor asked me to let go of the wall and kick kick kick my way over to her I was TERRIFIED!

    My dad swims “como un ladrillo”, he grew up in Bogota so I can’t really blame him. Fast forward to today in South Florida, where learning to swim is a rite of passage, and most children learn to swim before they learn to read.

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