Voice of a Spanish Dancer-Birthday Strokes

Published September 4, 2013 by rochellewisoff

Copy of Mermaid

 With each swim stroke I stretch and roll my body from side to side, releasing tension into the water.  It’s my birthday. Number six-oh on the hit parade. At the end of the first length I somersault, flip onto my back and push off the side of the pool wall.

            My parents gave me a Chatty Cathy for my sixth birthday. Ever notice she had the same voice as Talking Tina on the Twilight Zone?

            I reach the opposite end of the pool, turn slowly and deliberately, allowing the water to suspend me. The sun shines through the liquid ceiling and bathes the concrete and mosaic lines with refracted light. I push off the wall with my feet.

            On my tenth birthday, my dad opened a bank account for me with a dollar for each year. I felt very grown up with my passbook in hand.

            Missing the pool’s edge I falter in the next flip-turn. Water fills my nose and stings for a moment. A few strokes later the sensation passes.

            One chilly afternoon, almost three months after my first two-digit birthday, the world changed with the president’s assassination. Months later the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan and puberty appeared on my horizon.

            Right, left, breathe to the right. Left, right, breathe to the left. There’s a rhythm to everything.

            My sixteenth birthday passed without notice. No party. Hardly a nod from my parents. Why does this still hurt? It happened over half a century ago. Get over it, old girl. Move on.

            Two laps, then three, I switch to a new stroke at each turn. Freestyle. Backstroke. Breast stroke.

            At twenty one, I held my six-month old son in my arms. By my thirtieth we’d multiplied that number by three sons.

            Back to freestyle stroke I swim the length without taking a breath.

            The Gulf War called my husband back to active duty Navy. The boys grew in his absence without taking a breath. Upon his return, I found a job as a cake decorator in a grocery store. My boss hid in the walk-in cooler to decorate a cake for my fortieth birthday.

            I submerge and turn in the water, then surface for a gulp of air. Swimming on my back, I count strokes and ceiling tiles so I don’t bump my head on the pool’s edge.

            My fiftieth birthday came and went virtually unnoticed. My middle son married, a year later the eldest also married. The youngest left home to pursue his music. We were blessed with a granddaughter. In the midst of it all I discovered my latent passion for writing.

            Like water, life rushes by. I don’t feel older, but my mirror tells a different story.

            One last time I flip, dive underwater, skim the pool floor and ask myself, “What will I be when I grow up?”




Beside my special birthday this week, Diana Nyad, an incredible woman realized her dream at the tender age of 64. Four previous failed attempts didn’t deter her. I doff my swim cap to your, Diana! To read more click here.

Thank you, Diana, for the birthday gift of hope and determination.  You made my day!

74 comments on “Voice of a Spanish Dancer-Birthday Strokes

    • Dear VB,

      I’ve heard that before. Wonder who “they” are. 😉 I certainly don’t feel much different than I did in my forties, at least as far as energy and fitness levels go. If anything, I have more energy.
      I hope to be a widely known author when I grow up. 😉




  • That’s a great reflection. I know what you mean: I never feel older, although I do feel more “me” so I guess that’s what getting older is all about. That at least, is a comfort, that even though the numbers climb disturbingly fast, every year I’m more and more “me”. Happy birthday~


    • Dear David,

      I like that…feeling more me. I certainly have a better picture of who I am than I did even ten years ago. I’m more comfortable in my own skin than ever. Turning 60 isn’t what I thought it would be.

      Thank you for the comments and the birthday wishes.




  • Happy Birthday –

    Age is what you want it to be.Growing up can be so over-rated. Oh I’ve been most of the places that you describe. And I truly believe it is the belief of hope and wonderment of imagination that allow us to be as young as we want – even when we attempt moments of responsibility.

    Cheers! ~Jules


  • As one who will hit the six-zero in just over half a year, I know exactly what you mean. I still marvel at the disconnect between the number and the way I feel. May it always be so (at least in the direction of feeling much younger than our ages!!)

    All the best blessings to you in this upcoming year and may you never grow up too much.



  • What a fitting birthday gift for you, the gift of “can-do.” I hope you had a wonderful day. One bump on the pool wall and we learn to count lights, or tiles, or anything to keep from doing that again! I like the unique way you shared a bit of your life story with us.


  • Hi Rochelle,
    Enjoyed this brief but skillfully written recap of your life. Happy 60th! Those birthdays ending in zero are monumental and mark new passages in our lives. Hope the 60s go swimmingly for you and you swim strongly toward all your goals. Ron


    • Dear Ron,

      Thanks for dropping by for a swim and a read. I can’t do anything at this point but but put one stroke in front of the other. There’s no flip-turning back, is there. In any case, I still have goals, aspirations and dreams. Thank you for your affirming comments.




  • Wonderful read! Happy Birthday! I was right there with you at every turn and slosh. Have always been a fish and appreciate how the water feels around me–like I can fly, with the water suspending me in space. Thanks. Will head to the pool!


    • Dear LY,

      I’m happy to meet a kindred spirit. There’s nothing more wonderful than being buoyed by the water. Suspended in the flight of a flip turn. Thank you for the dropping by with comments and well wishes.




  • Happy Birthday, Rochelle! When I grow up, I hope to breathe in as much of life as you have, one stroke at a time. It’s an honor to meet you and join you in this space.

    Love and light,


  • Happy Birthday Rochelle. I enjoyed knowing you in high school and reconnecting in our later years. My, how time flies. . . Thank you for sharing and being a continued inspiration to so many of your fans, followers and friends!


    • Dear Jbertolus,

      The song “Those were the Days” runs through my head. “Oh my friend, we’re older but no wiser, for in our hearts the dreams are still the same.”

      Thank you for coming by with nice comments.




  • Excellent, Rochelle! I enjoyed the reflection very much. Also, I understand why skimming past your 16th B-day would still hurt. That’s an important day for teens!!!
    I don’t remember mine, but that could simply be the stroke.


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