This Summer, I'm Always Jumping In

Last May, during our first visit of the season to a local swimming hole, my kids played in the water while I sat nearby on a towel in my clothes, making sure everyone had snacks and sunblock. It was a normal summer day, and I felt just fine. I would watch the kids have fun for a few hours and then we’d head home.

My older daughter, Willa, who was 11 at the time, begged me to come in, but I demurred. Swimming meant being seen in my bathing suit. Swimming meant getting cold and wet — and in our home state of Montana, it often meant getting very cold. Swimming meant even more prep time before a trip and even more sand in the car on the way home. And then more laundry. And then finding extra time to shower.

But then my daughter said, “But swimming always makes everything better.”

And something clicked in me. Swimming was always such a special treat for me as a kid. Really, some of my favorite family memories were summer days on the beach, even when it was cold, even when it was rocky, even when it was windy. What if, in my 40s, I reclaimed a child’s attitude for swimming, just for one summer?

That was it. I didn’t have my suit, but I jumped in anyway. I didn’t have an extra towel for myself, but I jumped in. And the whole afternoon with my kids was so much more fun.

That was the beginning. I promised myself that for the rest of the summer, I was getting in the water, conditions be damned!

Here were my rules:

  • If I was anywhere near clean, safe, swimmable water, I would get in.
  • Getting in means putting your whole body under water!
  • It didn’t matter if my kids were there or if they got in too.
  • Lightning was basically the only valid excuse to not get in.
  • Summer lasts from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
  • I’d keep a swimsuit and towel in my car, just in case I was caught without them.

What followed was the most fun summer I’ve had as an adult. And I’ve found that jumping in makes other people jump in, too.

The first time my challenge came up after that first day, it was a cool Saturday in early June and I was on a friend’s boat on Flathead Lake. No one else had brought suits, because it was early in the season, but I — even though I honestly did not want to — said screw it and went overboard. The water felt amazing, and around me, the mountains still glowed with snow. I floated on my back and felt joy and peace. And then, one by one, my friends stripped to their underwear and joined me. A normal day turned magical.

Throughout the summer, I kept jumping in.

Swimming in Flathead Lake, Montana.

Sarah Aswell

Over the course of the summer, I jumped into the Blackfoot River off of a big smooth rock, over and over with my girls. I found the perfect swimming hole in the Bull River with my kids — and we had a lovely run-in with the most adorable baby snake, the size of your pinky. I boogie boarded with my partner in the Atlantic Ocean while visiting my parents — when I would have usually stayed ashore.

Soaking in Gold Bug Hot Springs in Idaho.

Sarah Aswell

I jumped into Two Medicine Lake after a hard, hot day of backpacking, where the water was so clear and cold it took my breath away.

And when my kids and I saw a sign for a natural hot spring, in the middle of nowhere in Idaho, we made a u-turn, grabbed our towels, and got in.

Swimming at Topsail Beach, North Carolina.

Sarah Aswell

It felt like the summer flew by. I was more engaged with my kids. I was having way more fun exploring our state with them. And one by one, my friends were always jumping in, too.

Soon, Labor Day arrived, along with the official end of summer — and the end of my vow to always jump in. I did it. The challenge was over. The next weekend, my kids and I decided on one last road trip, to Grand Teton National Park, which is less than a day’s drive from our house. It was crisp but sunny out when we reached Jenny Lake, a gorgeous glacier-fed emerald lake surrounded by jagged peaks. We were wearing our fall jackets, and absolutely no one was in the water, but Willa looked at me with a mischievous smile.

“Are our swimsuits still packed in the car?”

Swimming in Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons National Park.

Sarah Aswell

After a quick costume change, we were bounding through the water and then diving in. It was so beautiful. It felt so good. I did not give a single shit that it was mid-September and I was the only adult in a crowded tourist area in a bathing suit.

It was clear that my summer of always jumping in would be extended to next summer, and indefinitely to all the summers to come. This was too good to stop.

The three of us splashed and played and floated, and I knew it would be a core memory. Not only for them, but for me too. And then we saw that other people along the shore of the lake — kids and adults — had seen our fun. And they were jumping in, too.

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