The Ladies Who Swim

My daughter taught me that it's never too late to find good role models

A few months ago, my daughter Sarah dropped by after her morning swim. She was dressed to the nines—expensive silk skirt, designer boots, cool tights, perfect eyeliner, sleek hair—not what most people wear to a workout, especially one that leaves you sopping wet and in need of a major cosmetic overhaul.

"Wow, you look amazing," I said. "Breakfast date instead of a swim today?

"No, I swam," she said. "I wanted to look good for Kelly and Barb."

Kelly and Barb are two women in the group I've nicknamed "the pool ladies"—the women my kid swims with at the Rose Bowl pool three days a week. The pool ladies range in age from 50 to 80 and are apparently the most awesome people in the world.

There's Barb, 70, warm, expansive, talks with her hands, and wears crisp Ralph Lauren slacks and tailored shirts; and Kelly, 57, a short, spunky artist with eclectic taste in clothes and the most amazing head of tight, gray curls cut in a chic bob. Simone is a tall, slender European bombshell of 55 who has "Claude," her ex lover's name, tattooed under left breast. Monica, 61, is a master swimmer with gold medals who, on her 61st birthday, swam 6100 meters (almost four miles) because she can. And several others named for their particular super power: Rapunzel with long luxurious gray hair that touches her waist; Sumo, a sturdy woman who resembles her wrestling namesakes; and Body Builder, a buff, black Amazonian goddess.

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They're a badass bunch—dripping with self-confidence, comfortable in their own skins—which have, over the last few months, captivated my 27-year-old daughter.

She adores them.

"Kelly had silver oxfords on today!"

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"Barb loved my gold boots!"

"Simone complimented my earrings!"

Most days, you'll find me wearing three-year-old cargo shorts from Target and a faded Denim and Supply T-shirt bought on final clearance at Marshall's for $12. This is my uniform—that of a writer who spends the day in bed with a laptop. I'm lucky if I get out of my pajamas. The odd day that it's cold enough to wear jeans, I feel overdressed. I haven't worn earrings in so long, the hole in my right ear has closed up. I'm not buff or rich. I don't own silver oxfords, have amazing hair or cool tats. I can't swim four miles or kick someone's ass in a dark alley. Hearing about these women—healthy, fit, outgoing, stylish and my daughter's new role models—I'm embarrassed to admit, makes me jealous.

I'm so jealous my stomach flip-flops whenever she mentions them.

"Barb asked me to lunch and a gallery opening next week."


I know I should embrace the fact that my millennial daughter has older female heroes. I should be proud my husband and I raised her to value all human beings, no matter what age. And I should be grateful to her mentors for their friendship and inspiration.

And I am. Sort of. But she's mine and I don't want to share her. I want to be her hero.

A lot of moms have strained relationships with their daughters, but I'm lucky—my kid and I are close. We talk every day. She pops in at least three times a week, usually to raid the fridge, but still. Every Sunday night we have family dinner. She invites me to parties, confides in me, and takes my advice.

She keeps asking me to swim with her.

"You'd like my ladies," she says.

"I can't get up that early," I say.

But a few weeks ago I treated myself to a mani-pedi and a good haircut. Then I bought a beautiful caftan, crazy expensive, and a new pair of jeans. I'm waiting for a Ralph Lauren denim shirt—an investment at $175 but a wardrobe essential—to go on sale.

I'm thinking about going to the pool with Sarah next week. But only after my new bathing suit arrives. I hope Kelly and Barb like it.