When the Christmas lights switch off, and the tree comes down; when the joy of anticipation turns to paper on the floor, and holiday meals swirl in stomachs like oversized loads of laundry; when the egg nog hangover kicks in, or the Hallmark special clicks off; when monotony returns; when anxiety comes back like precarious icicle spears above your head; when depression settles again like feet of snow on your window sills; when the romance of the season ends, the new year begins, and everybody goes home, what next?
Perhaps the memories of being involuntarily dunked as a child is what scarred me; or maybe it was those uncomfortable moments when somebody else’s kid splashed me at the public pool (FYI, kids, “Ha…ha…okay…” is code for “why don’t you find your mom, you little shit?”). Whatever the reason, I don’t get excited about swimming.
So, as the continental breakfast formed to waste in our bellies, and Lindsey made it clear that she wasn’t going to forget about the hotel pool, dread rolled my eyes to the back of my head while some variation of “yes, dear” eked from my mouth. She wanted to swim up a memory with Isaiah, our one-year-old son, and to be honest, in the deep end of my soul, I did too.
“You don’t want to?” she asked.
“No, no. I do,” I said, pulling Isaiah’s swim diaper up.
Isaiah waddled down the hall like an arctic penguin as I moped behind him like a corpulent walrus. When we creaked the door open and the shock of chlorine smacked our faces, I was relieved to find no other guests were looking to swim at ten A.M.. We had the place to ourselves.
Our voices echoed as the morning light illuminated the room. The water was a glass floor, still and untouched, and spread in an oblong shape.
“Just jump in,” Lindsey instructed, obviously having forgotten who she was married to.
I put my feet in on the first step.
It wasn’t warm.
It never is.
The second step reached my calves; the third, my thighs; and the fourth…well, the fourth was the worst. I gave myself the familiar pep talk (“You can do this!”) as my balls shriveled into my stomach, fearing the inevitable, and my tiny Tim shamed me with its tiny turtled posture. With a strained breath and stiff shoulders, I stepped into the water, lamenting its merciless frigidity on my family jewels. And, thinking it would help, I dove under to feel the frozen claws scrape my cheeks. I emerged, wet and miserable, but still alive enough to accept my son from the arms of my wife.
As I bounced Isaiah in the water, tossed him in the air, and held him above the surface, his smile warmed the moment, and his laughter heated the pool (maybe he peed, I don’t know). I learned once again (I’ve learned it a million times) that the anticipation of an event is almost always worse than the actual event.
Then, I got out.
And, just as it was miserable shocking my body into the water, so it was shocking my body out of water. The warm and cozy air in which I once confided was now abrasive as a sopping wet, nearly nude.
And, that is how I imagine Christmas can be.
Getting Out Of The Holiday Pool
So many people dread the holiday awkwardness, the painful moments, the parties, the family gatherings, the gift-opening spotlight. But when we force ourselves into uncomfortable situations (or are forced into them), we tend to realize it’s not as bad as we anticipated, and, in fact, often we find that it’s actually kind of nice.
Then we get out of the holiday pool in which we were swept up by the crashing waves of the season, and we are shocked again by the monotony and normalcy of everyday life. The air in which we were once so stubbornly comfortable is suddenly bare and cold and abrasive.
So, what do we do? This is my strategy:
Be grateful for the time you had. Follow up with people. Cherish the memories.
Allow yourself the opportunity to appropriately reset, “dry off,” readjust, learn again to be alone. Only…
…don’t give up on getting back in the pool. Be careful not to warp the memory of a good time with overthinking and also don’t let your present exhaustion taint your past experience. Appreciate the season for what it is, and next year, try not to torture yourself with needless anticipation.
Swimming is not that bad.