Guest Blog by Salty Seabird Eloise.
Why I swim in the sea in winter? Several people have asked me to write more but I never have because it feels a little vulnerable. I write Facebook posts sharing windows into my life and I get such a warm response so I thought, fuck it. Here we are.
I would take my daughter, Odetta, down to the sea every evening just to kill that awful hour at 4pm when it’s too early to feed the beast and too late to take her anywhere in public without her having an exhaustion meltdown. Just as the sun would be setting I’d put so many layers on her that she would resemble a burst couch, tufts of wild blonde hair sprouting from her thick wool hat. The hat itself was way too big and would end up resting on those big pink cheeks she inherited from me. I would stop at Costa and get us hot chocolates to warm our hands as we made our way down to that beautiful blue. Sometimes when I walk with her hand in mine I have to pause to take in the fact I created this little wildling and those hands still seem so tiny in mine.
I started this ritual of going to the beach every evening when she was about 6 months old. Why? because being a single mum sucks sometimes. Winter nights start so early and once that baby is down I was sat in a small basement flat in Hove on my own. Those moments down the beach were a haven to me. Other families would be catching the last of the sun too and there was so much laughter and joy. Sometimes my heart would ache a little as my family didn’t work out how I wanted it too and I didn’t have that person to share the joy of my girl with, but I did my best to stay present in that moment and not get lost in the “What ifs”. That was relatively easy to do as more often then not I would be wrestling stones out of Odetta’s mouth or convincing her that licking old seaweed isn’t the best idea.
One day on our way back from the beach when the little rat bag was lying on the floor refusing to move, I saw two women about to get into that freezing cold sea, dressed just in swimming costumes and bright swim caps. In that moment, when I was so engrossed in my motherhood journey, bribing my child with every snack I could find at the bottom of my bag, exhausted, close to tears, I imagined myself stepping into that water and it gave me a moment of freedom. I felt an energy burst inside of me and I made a promise to find someone who would be mad enough to swim with me.
Turns out that I didn’t have any friends crazy enough. Then someone told me of a swim group called the Salty Seabirds. I joined the Facebook group and saw posts from women all over Brighton and Hove organising different times to meet. Informal, you just show up in whatever state you are in and swim. So on the 10th of Feb I took my pale arse down to the sea, flask in my bag, wrapped in a big jumper and scarf.
The weekends are my weakness, as I hear they are for a lot of single mothers. I would message all of my friends to see who we could tag along with but they would be having family time with their partners who worked during the week (selfish bitches) Which is understandable (it’s not) so often those two days felt the loneliest. Sometimes I’d just wait and see who got sick of their partners first or wait for one of them to have a row (kind of a joke. kind of) but mostly I’d have to just get on with it. Then swimming entered my life and I could bribe a grandparent to have Odie or sometimes she would tag a long with me and moan the entire time about how much she hates everything that’s nice in the world, hence her nickname Edgar Allan O. As soon as I entered that freezing cold water, and yelped and screamed and swore at the top of my lungs, jumping over the waves, I finally felt freedom. Motherhood is beautiful, achingly so, but it’s also the hardest and loneliest journey a woman can take. The sea made me feel ok again, like I could do it, I could be a good mum and a happy woman and those two things could coexist again.
When you take that first gasp as you step into cold water, you remember why you are here. For moments like this. Swimming towards the sun or in rain or sometimes even snow. Your body adjusts and a creeping pink blushes your skin as an addictive sting starts at your toes and works its way up. I’ve laughed so hard I have filled my mouth with sea water, and I’ve washed away tears in the sea too. Children are always watching, and I feel proud my girl is watching her mama do something nourishing and wild. Without those women I swim with, without that sea, I would be a different woman and mother.
Note from Seabirds – Eloise has very strong opinions on the type of toppings that are acceptable in polite society to accompany a baked potato.