Last Sunday, my two-year-old daughter slipped into the pool without a sound. My son screamed, a siren blaring at me to stop worrying about dinner. Right before I jumped in to get her, I saw her head nearly rise above the surface and sink back below. She didn’t kick or flail her arms. She just flowed up and back down in the water. It wasn’t until I pulled her out that she let loose with every ounce of resistance she had.
* * *
At the start of the year, I got a 2014 workbook from Leonie Dawson to help make this year The. Best. Ever. Considering there was a decent amount about 2013 that I wanted to put in the Diaper Champ, I was all for the closing ceremony for that year. I started filling out the pages for the year ahead and came to the one where I had to come up with a word for 2014, one that would define and shape the way I approached it, and perhaps how it approached me. I got stuck. Each word I tried to cram into the box didn’t fit. It was too strong, too rigid, too not me. I did what I do with a lot of difficult projects, I set it aside with the intention of coming back to it, but no real action on that front.
* * *
Two days after the near drowning of my daughter, I went to have Hellerwork (or Rolfing) done. The woman who treats me is kind and generous and has basically become my therapist now. We met at the dog park the day after I assured the universe I would start asking for, and accepting, help. We talked about my dog’s hip dysplasia and she mentioned she was a bodyworker. I asked about Hellerwork and she offered me a free session. I almost refused and then I remembered. I was saying YES! to help. So, I gladly accepted and now I see her every two weeks. She’s able to tell what I’m struggling with just by seeing where my body holds tight and refuses to release. That day it was my adductors.
“You’re trying too hard to control,” she said. “Just relax.”
Each time she went to touch me, I tried to anticipate where she would place her hands, what the purpose was, how my body was supposed to respond. I clenched and tightened when I was supposed to release and exhale. I tried to control my response in a way I hadn’t done two days earlier or been able to since. Tears came at will and all too often. I shouted at my husband (who was out of town during the event) because I had nowhere else to release my fear, my anger, my debilitating guilt and shame at not paying attention to a toddler near a pool. I had even been warned by our home inspector three years ago. He hated when families with children moved into homes with pools. His family had experienced tragedy.
* * *
Ten years ago, I decided to take salsa lessons. I love to dance and it seemed like a fun way to get a little exercise, to brighten up what was a very dark time in my life. My husband hated dancing, so I went to lessons alone. Though, he did accompany me to a salsa club in the Mission District of San Francisco a few times.
He danced with me, but I think many of the men there felt sorry for me. It was obvious he didn’t know what he was doing. He hardly tried. But he went to keep me company and I appreciated it.
I remember one night particularly well. I had a number of offers to dance and I accepted one. Everything I had learned in class, dancing mostly with women who were in similar situations as me, went out the window. I anticipated; I turned when there was no direction to turn from my partner; I stepped the wrong way. I tried to lead. Mostly, I tried not to open up and allow someone else to take over.
* * *
As I lay on my Hellerworker’s table, I was back in that dimly lit club, not being asked to dance again because the men soon realized it was my husband they should feel sorry for. I couldn’t, or more accurately, wouldn’t be led. I would not be that vulnerable. And for the first time since I’d started getting the Hellerwork done, my body refused to let down its guard. There had been a breach in the control wall and my daughter almost died because of it, or so my ego-controlled body tried to tell me.
I started to cry. And to laugh. How ridiculous that I could not allow myself to enjoy a dance or to accept a healing because something terrible might happen if I opened up to the joy of it all. And, yet, all of that clenching and holding tight hadn’t prevented my daughter from going in and going under. All it did was rob me of my joy in those other moments.
I told my Hellerworker about the salsa dancing. And then I told her about the workbook, my attempt to control this next year and make it my best yet. I would do 100 new and beautiful and wonderful things! I would plot out my success! I would even make a vision board! (Note: most of this remains undone. Additional note, I think the workbook is AWESOME. I must have bought one for at least a dozen friends and family. It is well worth it. But, I approached it in the wrong spirit.)
And then it hit me, I have my word after all.
This is my task for the coming year. Probably a task for the rest of my life. Going rigid and clinging isn’t going to get me through the uber-hectic days, the upcoming job transition, or help me finish my novel. More importantly, it won’t help me keep me kids alive or keep anyone I love safe. In fact, it was clinging to a rigid idea of when my kids had to eat and what they were going to eat that got me so distracted I missed her plunge in the first place, not a relaxing of that operating system.
I simply cannot anticipate the moves. Nor am I supposed to. The lesson for me in all of this is the response, the fluidity with which I turn when guided to do so. The way I make the dance look easy and beautiful because I’m not resisting being led. The way I smile instead of grit my teeth because I’m no longer white-knuckling the ride. Control is simply an illusion our egos come up with to comfort us in the shadow of uncertainty. It may keep fear at bay for a time, but it keeps the happiness away as well.