I was always afraid some big kid would pick me up and throw me into the water. I wore glasses and I couldn’t have them in the pool so I could never see much of what was going on. I was never very comfortable in the water. It took me several summers of lessons until probably the humiliation of being 3 or 4 or 5 years older than other kids in the class convinced me to learn to swim. My husband didn’t learn until I knew him.

Parents always want their kids to succeed where they have failed before. And you want to spare your kid whatever horribleness you might have experienced as a child, as much as it’s possible–and it isn’t always possible.

That is the context for our extraordinary pride at Zoe’s aquatic achievement this summer. As Dana Vollmer and Elizabeth Beisel (and of course Michael Phelps) slice through the water in the background, we have spent a heady few weeks watching Zoe GET IT. She kind of learned to swim last summer, with the help of some lovely young lifeguards at Woodley Pool, who succeeded when past efforts to get Zoe comfortable in the water had failed. A previous swim class she took yielded only “able to get in and out of the pool using the ladder” on the report card they issued at the end. And then last winter we joined the YMCA just so she could swim because she was so excited about it. But she hated the pool at the YMCA and the instructors were terrible. If anything, she regressed. And even the first day of summer this year she was clinging to us, refusing to let go of us or the wall.

And yet, she persevered. We rejoined Woodley Pool, which she loves, and she relaxed. We resumed lessons with the teenage lifeguards. We went to the pool several times a week so she could play and practice. And she really, truly got it. When we were on vacation in Lewes, Delaware, she swam in the Delaware Bay. When we returned from vacation she took the swim test at Woodley: tread water for 60 seconds and swim the 25-meter length of the pool without stopping. She passed with no trouble, granting her the privilege of swimming by herself in the pool, going in the deep end, and jumping off the diving board. She immediately wanted to try the diving board, and she tried and tried and tried until she made herself do it.

At the theatre camp she’s currently attending, they take the kids to a nearby pool three days per week. Today Zoe took the initiative of asking the lifeguard at that pool–who she didn’t know at all–if she could take the swim test to swim in the deep end there. He gave her the test–which was easier than Woodley’s, she said–and she passed and was the only kid able to venture into the deep end, which she did with confidence.

Next year we are definitely signing up for swim team. I was never on any sort of athletic team until I was an adult. I am so proud of her that she has these skills and this drive that I never possessed, and that she can enjoy herself and be safe in the water.

The other night when she passed and was in the midst of making herself jump into the deep end and attempting the boards, Randy and I were overjoyed. At one point Randy said “I think we should get her a treat. Should we go out for ice cream later?” I said, “she can have anything she wants! She can have a puppy!”

So we ended up at Baskin-Robbins, not at the animal shelter, but we are still very excited. Here’s some footage of her big night.