SOLC Day 29: Treading Water


March 2020 SOLC–Day 29
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.

I have a really poor memory. It’s so bad that when I can’t remember a person or event, my sister asks me, half kidding, “Are you sure you didn’t do drugs?” There are certain rare moments though, that shine intact through the blur of past events. It’s as if they’ve been coated in varnish and are impervious to the ravages of time.

I’ve been thinking about one of those moments a lot lately. I don’t know how old I was, but I distinctly remember taking a five minute “treading water” test in a pool. This was one of the prerequisites for heading into the hallowed deep end, something I longed to do.

On the day of the test, the lifeguard squatted by the side of the pool with the timer and I jumped in, then moved back to the wall.

“Ready?” she asked.

I nodded and turned around, poised to move away.


I pushed off the wall and into the water.


Immediately, I began to tread. I started out confidently, briskly treading away. I was a decent swimmer and very comfortable in the water. I wasn’t too worried about the test.

At first.

After a while, maybe a minute or two, it dawned on me that five minutes might be a lot longer than it initially sounded like.

I waited as long as I could, longer than I wanted to, longer than I thought I could, and then, I gasped out, “How much longer?”

Surely it must have been at least four minutes already.

“Less than three minutes left,” she answered.

Three? Almost three minutes left? It’s only been a little more than two minutes?!!! 

I kept going, automatically moving my arms and legs, but along with my energy,  my confidence was ebbing.

I might not be able to do this.

Time slowed down to a molasses trickle. My arms and legs moved slower and slower.

“You’re doing great, Molly! Keep going!”

When you tread water, you’re constantly moving, yet staying in one place. My focus narrowed to that small circle of water around me. My arms. My legs. My breath. My arms. My legs. My breath.

I don’t remember the moment I decided I couldn’t do it any longer. I’m not sure it was even a conscious decision. I just found myself heading to the edge of the pool.

“There’s only a minute and a half left,” the lifeguard called.

I kept moving forward, desperate to stop. To hold onto something solid.  To have the test over, even if I had failed.

Finally, I came within reach, and she stretched out one hand. I reached my hand toward hers, and as soon as our hands met, she pushed me back into the water.


“You can do it, Molly!” she called. “You’re almost done.”

I was shocked. Utterly shocked! I kept treading, because what else could I do? She wouldn’t let me quit!

Would she let me drown?

My arms and legs were heavier and heavier in the water, and I was just barely keeping my head above the surface. I didn’t have the energy to argue. But I was done. Finished. I truly felt I had nothing left to give. I remember feeling scared, feeling I couldn’t possibly go on.

Yet ultimately, I did.

“Time!” she finally called. “You did it!”

I ducked under the water, and wearily kicked to the side. I came up, hair streaming and clung to the gritty pool edge with wrinkled fingers, exhausted. I remember having such mixed feelings. I’d passed the test, but I also felt betrayed. She’d pushed me away! I wonder if the shock of that is what etched this moment in my memory. Still, I’d passed the test. I’d made it for the full five minutes even though I didn’t think I could. I didn’t feel triumphant though. Mostly I felt dazed.

I think of that moment now as I deal with the fallout from recent events. I already felt overwhelmed with teaching before all of this happened–so often struggling to keep my head above water. Now I’ve really been thrown in the deep end. I’m trying to figure out how to do my job in an entirely different way while adjusting to a whole new way of life, and a whole new raft of worries.  I’m so thankful that I still have a job and that I can connect with my students and their families. Yet, I feel uncertain, vulnerable and exposed (Video lessons? Ack!), and at times, overwhelmingly inadequate.

I keep telling myself this is an opportunity to grow. To learn more about myself. To recognize that I can do more than I thought was possible. I’ve learned a lot already and I know I’ll learn more, but there are moments when I want to give up. When it all just seems like too, too much. When every atom of my being screams for me to head to the side of the pool.

Instead, I have to keep treading water madly as the edge of the pool moves farther away. No one’s pushing me back in (Thank God!), and it isn’t a physical endurance test (again, Thank God!), but I’m having to push myself further than I thought I could and in so many different ways. It feels like I’m being tested on teaching myself new strokes while simultaneously trying to keep my head above water with the ultimate goal of moving myself and my students forward through the now turbulent waters to reach some far-off yet-to-be-defined edge.

I wish I felt as confident in my abilities as that long-ago lifeguard did.

We’ve only been doing this for 8 days?

How much longer? 


11 thoughts on “SOLC Day 29: Treading Water

  1. Maybe this story is exactly what people need right now. As I was reading it, I was making the connections for myself about a timed treading water and the untimed test of distance learning. It would be easier for me to just know it’s going to be 11 weeks.

    At least for now there are plenty of helping hands…just some chilly water.

    Your descriptions and pacing in this story are fabulous. I was right there with your shock and exhaustion.


  2. A great analogy for the present situation we are facing, and a great slice in itself. The struggle and doubts of you as the main character are something we are all facing. Today, i am feeling like this whole scenario is something positive, but that changes overnight as I think about the tasks of the next day. But surely, it can;’t be otherwise, we will come out of this on top with more wind in our sails. Surely…


  3. Fran Haley says:

    Such a great analogy for life as it is now, even without the trial of video lessons. Time is a strange commodity. One minute flies when I am listening to a great reader cover so much ground in timed oral fluency; it feels eternal (and unfair) to a child who labors with the reading. That’s what I recalled when you were treading water, thinking surely you were almost done. Truth is, getting through is a moment-by-moment thing; it is all we can handle. Wonderfully-told story. It hits home.


  4. Janet F. says:

    You pulled me into the water and then pow! You pulled me into your teacher-world. Being retired I only look in from the side. I feel for you, I get it, I am glad I am not under this pressure. I wonder, I worry, I marvel at all the unique though connected experiences. Young teacher, small, quiet apt. no kids to deal with when trying to do virtual teaching, those with a houseful in what was once a big enough space, but feels too cramped these days, the single mom with 9 kids I know; the older 2 not currently in the home, but 9 people in need of learning, toilet paper and hope, because all are indoors and the youngest seriously ill, to the kids who rebel, the parents who feel like inadequate teachers, the arguments over fun time and school lessons of any stripe. We are in uncharted waters. Too many just holding it together. Fearing drowning, looking for that helping hand and to be saved. For whatever small comfort this could provide, you are not alone. Powerful and true piece, Molly. PS I love Maine. Especially Southport.


  5. margaretsmn says:

    There’s a new meme that I took a screen shot of, but since I can’t add a picture, I will quote it.
    “I will teach you in a room.
    I will teach you now on Zoom.
    I will teach you in your house.
    I will teach you with a mouse.
    I will teach you here and there.
    I will teach you because I care.
    So just do your very best.
    And do not worry about the rest.”

    Treading water is a great analogy. We are also learning to swim in new water. We will get through this and I have to believe that we are going to be better for it.


  6. Great one Molly… so poignant and so appropriate! Staying home is so like treading water. Working hard but not going anywhere, using lots of energy worrying! Good luck with your didtance learning… our kids are out at least another month. I am teaching oceanogryto my ten year old grandson who is in 4th grade using facetime and google docs! Also great show at 1 each weekday called lunch doodles with mo willems. Saved on you tube all art. He is the resident artist this year at the kenedy center in DC. Take a look. Think your students would love it. All episodes are archived so the could start on episode 1
    Love sues friend nancy barnes


  7. Amanda Potts says:

    What a wonderful metaphor. I was right there with you during your test – I remember mine, too. Interestingly, I was with the lifeguard here: you *could* do it – you could do so much more than you knew. Yes, you felt betrayed & shocked, but ultimately, that lifeguard was there to protect you AND she wanted you to pass that test. You can pass this test, too – and you have people around who will help & protect you (I hope); you have a community of bloggers who will do this with you. Still, I think about the exhaustion and shock at the end of your test. We can get through this, but it’s definitely going to be tough. Hang in there. The rewards of the deep end await.


  8. Hmmm, I missed addressing “Teaching during a Pandemic” in both Teaching Writing and Teaching Reading at UNE. Oops. My bad. I agree with Amanda that the lifeguard was reacting “for you, not against you.” She was there if you really needed her. Damn, five minutes seems like a long time to this weak swimmer here in York. Are you listening to enough Brene Brown and her podcast Unlocking Us? She’s gold. She has three non-negotiables for you to do your job. Eight hours of sleep, exercise because our bodies hold our anxieties, and eat well (the old fruits and veggies routine). And then you can be the teacher that these kids and parents need/want. They need your loving, creative touch. As all your blog readers get on a daily basis. Godspeed and ten speed. (Does anyone still have a ten speed?)


  9. What an incredibly vivid memory. You wrote about it with the kind of detail that one would expect from someone with a fantastic memory. Maybe yours is better than you get credit for.

    It feels like we’ve been home for an eternity, doesn’t it? I am afraid it’s going to go on a lot longer.


  10. terierrol says:

    I fell like I am right beside you in the pool treading water, trying to keep our teacher head above water in these perilious times. It is a time full of self-doubt and worry. Know that you are not alone. Let’s just do our best.


  11. kd0602 says:

    Love the story–love the connections! I just spoke with a friend on Friday about something called “River Bones,” those memories that remain with us like the branches and burls that stay in the river. Your story reminds me of a river bone. I love the way you let it evolve into a lesson for now. Good luck with the digital learning–does it begin for you tomorrow? I have every confidence in you…just like your long ago lifeguard! You’ve got this.


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