Across the country, or, at least in the colder, northern states, the shrieks of children are piercing through the haze of our Friday. The time has come… it is Memorial Day Weekend… and the public pools are open for business.
Swimming changes when you become a parent. We’re no longer the screeching kids held back from jumping into the deep end while being slathered with sunscreen – we’re the holder-backer-slatherers. We’re hot and sweaty, restraining slippery kids in our mama-bird-eagle-talon vice grip. Toned and tanned lifeguards judge us from their pedestals above as we struggle with our new bathing suit top and an obvious inability to keep our children from running, falling and bleeding all over the place. Our old, pool-inspired squeals of glee have transformed into silent screams for anything BUT being at the pool… like wrestling alligators. Because summer’s “unofficial” beginning reminds us that we have three months of pool-related hell ahead.
I’d rather wrestle alligators.
Whether you have one child, or a dozen, the pool is a love-hate relationship forged in denial and nostalgia. We know that it’s a summer tradition, and we want our kids to love the pool as much as we did back in the day. There’s something oddly appealing about being in a big tub of water with 50 neighbors, ducking splashes, water gun spray and gross, floaty things we’d rather not think about. Community bonding happens best when everyone is halfway naked, so they say, and each year we renew our love for a cosmic dipping bowl of chemicals, body fluids and crystal clear water that leaves little to the imagination beneath the surface.
Half the battle is getting there. Before we set those wiggly kids into the pool, we need a place to put our 10 bags of snacks, sunscreen, toys and other painful reminders of a baggage-free past, like the row of brain-scalding lounges and its umbrellas of mockery. Swimming pool lounges are summer’s version of “musical chairs,” especially when we have more than one child. Invariably, there aren’t enough lounges together, or, we gleefully stride (don’t run!) to a spot with enough lounges, only to discover a pile of food covered in fire ants and a swarm of bees giving us the finger. We back away slowly, guiding our pre-mutiny child-posse to another location, bribe them to “share” a lounge and swear that we’re never coming back without a flask.
We must deal with angsty teenagers (whether ours or the products of our new, water-born extended family) and toddlers that steal floaties or other “favorite-only-because-they-took-it” toys. Bathroom trips are a horror show, and we can’t forget the hourly break that serves only to remind us that WE never get a break, and that we’re bad parents for forgetting one kid will only use the “softy” shredded towel we left at home. Then we direct our attention to the child-free couple who is holding hands, giggling and tanning away on their personal island of lounges. We giggle too, only it comes out as an evil laugh dripping with life experience. One day, they’ll be doling out snacks in the approved areas, too. Enjoy your pool time, kiddos, you’re next.
Nowhere can we be so exposed, from our bathing suits to our parenting styles, than the good ol’ community pool. Yet, year after year, we pack up the bags, grab (most of) the towels and do it all over again. We’re reinventing our childhood and connecting with our kids with a steely-faced determination and hopeful spirit. Somehow, even with the hassle, we see ourselves in our kids’ squeals and squirms and it all makes sense. The pool, while not as easy as alligator wrestling, is a messy extension of our messy love for those messy beings we treasure… it is an annual outpouring of love and an inescapable reality. This weekend, parents, I salute you and your determination to wrangle yourself, your kids and the accoutrements needed to renew this annual process. I’ll be there, right alongside you, silently screaming and keeping my eyes above the waterline at all times.