Almost every weekday morning, my alarm goes off at 10 past 5. Most days I manage to get out of bed. I put on my Speedo, my sweats and head for the pool, leaving my husband and two boys sound asleep. Getting up is never easy, especially when it is still dark outside, but I do it anyway. The exercise is important, but I also know that this is the only time of the day I can claim as my own.

A little past 6 a.m. I am in the water. My pool friends are here too: Ann, Tina, Kate, Molly and Joyce. Knowing they'll be here is part of what summons me at this crazy hour. There is a special bond among us. We're all busy women with full-time jobs, full-time kids or both. It is a pool filled with people who stick to a schedule, make lists, buy milk before we run out, and swim before the sun comes up.

Four hundred yards freestyle, 300 breaststroke, then butterfly, back, kick and pull. My morning routine. A mile if I'm lucky. I love the silence of the pool, the time to think.

This swim keeps me in balance. It is stolen time. No one needs me. There is no e-mail to answer. No cell phone ringing. No one is standing at my office door needing time or attention. There is no dinner to make or homework to help with.

I often wonder when my life will slow down. When I might be able to take a swim in the middle of the afternoon or catch up with friends after the sun comes up. A few years ago, my mother called me from Cape Cod. It was a Sunday and she was planning a walk with friends. Then she would come home and cook for a leisurely dinner party. "Mom, your life sounds so wonderful. I'm jealous," I told her.

"You'll have to wait until you're 70, dear," she said. "Then, you'll have time to relax." My mom died just a couple of years after that phone conversation. It was sudden. A diagnosis of cancer. Then a stroke. I think about that a lot.

Two hundred more yards to swim. It's close to 7 and almost time to head for the shower. Ann and Joyce are finishing too. In the locker room, we have time to talk. The conversations are a quick daily update, but they are always rich and reflect what really matters in each of our lives. On this morning I tell them about my trip to Boston to clean out my childhood home. My dad moved out a few months ago to be closer to all of us, his children. It is time to sell the house -- a pretty profound moment in my life, and it feels good to talk about it. These conversations are the best part of this exquisite morning ritual. In 15 minutes, I will dash to my car and head downtown. By 8 a.m. I will be in my office ready to begin the day. But for now I stand in the shower, unfolding the details of my life with my friends at the pool. I savor the moment.