Swimming in a Dress

This week, I had two conversations that morphed into one question about how we live our lives.

The first conversation was with a friend who told me about home-schooled children who were on a field trip at the Shepherd University pool. They were affiliated with a religious group that prohibits females from wearing pants, and, apparently prohibits swimming suits as well. My friend’s son watched astounded as the girls jumped into the pool still in their dresses.

The second conversation occurred on the phone with my mother, who wanted to know if my son had received his birthday check. After telling her yes, I added, “I know, he hasn’t sent a thank you note to acknowledge it. I’m a bad mom.”

My mother disagreed. “No, you aren’t. You are a much better mom than I was.”

Her comment shocked me, because I’m not even close to the type of mother she was.

My mom always made sure we sent thank you notes immediately. She planned menus that met every dietary guideline. And she ensured we did our Saturday chores, our beds were always made and that our laundry was always put away.

Not only do I fail to do all of those things on a regular basis. but my life is a chaotic mess compared to the structure in which I grew up. I told this to my mother in fewer words, but she responded, “You have fun with your kids. You know how to relax and just enjoy them. I never did.”

Not to belabor the point, but she WAS always wound quite tightly, and I’m generally not wound nearly that tight.

But getting unwound wasn’t easy. As I recently told a friend, “I spent the first 15 years of my life being a nerd trying to follow all the rules, and I spent the next 15 years trying to prove I was a rebel. Then I became a mom and had to find a happy medium.”

In short, I had to break free of restrictive expectations and learn balance so I could enjoy life.

Which brings me back to the girls who jumped into the swimming pool in their dresses and to my question.

“Can anyone really enjoy life fully when they are restricted by a rigid belief system?”

Being in a pool with a dress is probably more fun than not being the pool at all, but I can’t imagine it was all that enjoyable. The water-logged clothing had to make movement difficult and exhausting.

I have absolutely no right to question or judge the beliefs and choices of the girls or their families. If they choose to swim in a dress, they have every right to do so.

But I have every right to question my own choices and the self-imposed restraints I’ve often put on myself – those that prohibit me from enjoying life. Sometimes these have been thinking a work deadline is more important than a few hours with my children. Sometimes they have been my obsession with gaining weight. And sometimes they’ve been my concerns that I will fail when I try something new.

I’ve definitely done my share of swimming in a dress.

But both times and people evolve, and as I’ve aged, I’ve become better and better at shedding my dress. That doesn’t mean I’m going out in public in a string bikini, but it does mean I can enjoy a good swim in a modest tankini.

About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a daughter and son at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on April 27, 2013, in Family, My life, perspective, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Enjoyed your post. I know I certainly live with my own restrictions but recently let go of a few of them when I went surfing…even though I couldn’t stand up. I realised that I’ve spent much of my life as a bird inside a cage looking up at the sky and yearning to fly free and yet the door has always been open. I just haven’t stepped out. Stepping out is great in theory but it can be huge.
    I also think we Mums need to be a bit kinder to ourselves and let go of the mother guilt. I have a chronic illness which impinges on our family but I didn’t choose that. It’s not my fault. At the same time, I do carry guilt. I feel my kids have a hard trot because of it. Speaking of guilt, I’d better get to bed. xx Rowena

  2. TRINA – YOUR MOM IS SO RIGHT!!!! YOU ENJOY YOUR LIFE WITH YOUR CHILDREN!!! SO MANY OF US ARE TOO RIDGET IN OUR LIVES – YOUR CHILDREN ENJOY YOU AND AT THE SAME TIME YOU A GOOD PARENT!!!!!

  3. Yes, the restrictions are, so often, self-imposed and it’s nice to be reminded of that.
    Good luck with the ‘new’ swimming lessons, lol!

  4. What a great post! I will now remember “swimming in a dress” every time I feel constricted and have the urge to be free.

  1. Pingback: 28 April 2013: swimming | Gratitude every day

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