Swim School Mondays

Five years ago, on the Fourth of July when LittleMan was just shy of two years old, we attended a lovely baby shower in the guise of a backyard barbecue at a home with a big old pool out back.  I don’t remember much about the party, though, because I spent the entire day in abject terror that if I took my eyes off LittleMan for even one second he would DROWN.

My fear was not entirely misplaced.  LittleMan was chasing around a soccer ball at one point, and where did that soccer ball wind up?  IN THE POOL, with LittleMan teetering on the edge in pursuit.  There were some fascinating big kids romping around with water guns, which meant the best action was happening where?  IN THE POOL.  Yes, my friends, LittleMan was getting into that pool if it was the last thing he did.

To make a long story short, guess who wound up the only adult at the party decked in swimwear, the better to entertain her child/protect him from certain death?  That would be me, of course, and the experience confirmed a few things:

One: My kid loves the water.
Two: I would have enormously high blood pressure if I had a pool in my backyard.
Three: Being the only person wearing a bikini in a crowd where everyone else is fully dressed is awkward.

We have since devoted many hours towards getting our children water-safe.  LittleMan is now a terrific swimmer, I am proud to say, finally able to indulge his desire to float underwater for long stretches without scaring the bejeezus out of everyone in the vicinity.  Babygirl, on the other hand, is this summer’s heart-attack-waiting-to-happen.  Being a child who guards her independence rather fiercely, she is spending every Monday afternoon this month in the arms of her capable swim instructor, whose sole purpose is to teach her to kick her little hiney back to the wall in the event that she finds herself in the pool without someone waiting at the ready to catch her.

Swim Lesson Mondays are a funny scene.  In the late afternoon sun, while the kids go through the paces, alone with instructors, or in thrashing little pods, identifiable by the color of their goggles against the blue, the moms sit in a line on the pool deck, chatting and observing and checking their emails.  Every half hour, the Ferry Building clock chimes and the classes turn over.  The older children, stronger swimmers traveling in packs, are given some leeway to hang out in the water, while the moms line up to cajole the younger ones with promises of warm showers and salty snacks.

The younger ones are not buying it.  The younger ones DO NOT WANT TO GET OUT.

It all starts out very positive.  “C’mon, honey, I have your towel right here!  I’ll wrap you up all snug.  I brought cookies!”  Then, there is concern.  “No, honey, that’s not safe.  No, Teacher Dan has to work with someone else now.  Yes, you need a grown-up.  No, please stay on the step where you can stand.”  Finally, the threats.  “Okay, if you can’t be safe I will have to pull you out of the water.”  (Commence removal of Tori Burch flats and rolling up of jeans).  “Okay, one more chance, because you are a big girl and I know you can be safe and be a good listener and get out on your own…Nope, okay, I’m coming in to get you then…We have to…go…now…”

To hear the children wail is to understand that there is no pain like the pain of being pulled out of the pool when all you want to do in this life is SWIM (even though you don’t know how)!  In fact, the only pain that even comes close to rivaling this pain is the pain of having sunscreen applied to your face before you swim.  Alas, the swimming experience is bracketed with pain.

After a long school year of stressful work-family scheduling, I spent a lot of time in the early part of the summer soul-searching around mindfulness and being present with the kids when I have them in the afternoons.  One of my promises to the Universe is that rather than go through the motions (deposit child at swim lesson, witness swim lesson, struggle through end of swim lesson), I will find more ways to enjoy the motions.  In deference to this effort, we take an extra half-hour after lessons and I get into the pool with the kids and we practice and we play and we are close to one another, and they are a little more satisfied and a little more tired and I know I have done something right and refreshing and purely summery with them.  Win-win-win.  Who wants an ice cream?

Last week, though, Babygirl, threw a little wrench in the magic.  Shivering next to the pool while I gathered our dry clothes, she suddenly threw off her towel, declared that she needed to go poop right now, and then bolted like a madwoman for the mens’ locker room.

“No running,” the lifeguard called out listlessly.

But he was drowned out by me, shouting: “Babygirl!  Stop!  That’s not the right room!” I chased her to the door and screeched to a stop.  Being the only woman in a small room where everyone else is a naked man is awkward.  There really had to be another way.

“Babygirl?” I hollered hopefully from outside the door.  “Babygirl, you need to come out.”
“I’m going to the bathroom!” she shouted.  She sounded far away in the drone of the showers.
“LittleMan, can you go check on her?” I implored my son.  He went in, and emerged several minutes later with his dry clothes on.  “She’s got the door locked.  Can I have a snack?”

I paced around waiting as the lap swimmers came and went.  She is independent.  She is fastidious.  She’ll be out in a minute.  I sent a Hail Mary text to my husband: Any chance you are walking home past the pool, like, right now?  Bc we have a men’s locker room situation here.

“Mommmeeeeeee!  MOMMY!  Mommmmmmmmm!”
“I’m outside, Babygirl.”
“I need you to COME IN NOW and get me.”
“I can’t.”

Meanwhile, people were coming and going, minding their own business, and I was debating at what moment it would feel appropriate for me to kind of ‘Scuse me, pardon me, never mind us my way into the men’s locker room, when a familiar swim instructor came by.

“I can get her,” he offered.
“That would be amazing.  Thank you.”

A moment later I took my wayward three-year-old daughter’s arm and explained that when she is with Mommy we use the LADIES’ locker room.  Together we walked around to the appropriate door and I handed her her clothes.

Babygirl stared at me, fury in her eyes.
“What is it, love?” I asked, misunderstanding immediately.  “I’m not mad, honey, I just was freaked out that I couldn’t get to you in the men’s room.”

She batted at the clothes with her tanned little arm.  “I DON’T WANT TO WEAR THESE!  THESE ARE NOT BEAUTIFUL!”

Here we go, I thought.  Mindful mindful present present joyful joyful.  “But they are clean and cozy!” I replied cheerfully, pulling off her wet suit.

Babygirl began sobbing, because the only thing that can top the pain of the sunscreen and the pain of being removed from the pool and the humiliation of having a swim instructor fetch you from the men’s locker room is the pain of being presented with an outfit that is not beautiful, and being forced to wear that outfit in public.

An indignity, it turned out, my daughter was not going to suffer.  As I searched the swim bag for my own clean and cozy clothes, she stalked, naked, from the locker room, leaving her still-wet, half-dressed mother to once again holler helplessly, this time from the other side of a locker room door.

Pulling a sweatshirt over my wet shoulders, I sighed and gathered together our things before following her back out.  We had already made our impression on the audience of fully-clothed moms who sensibly left the messy, wet work of swimming to the professionals; a few extra moments of Babygirl’s nudity wouldn’t hurt anyone.  When I reached her, she was wearing the paint-stained, dirt streaked dress she wore to camp that morning, eating some string cheese and no doubt feeling very beautiful indeed.   LittleMan was sprawled in the sun, having polished off his own snack, trying to cajole Babygirl into giving him the rest of hers.

“You guys…” I sighed.  “What am I going to do with you?”
“Can we watch a show on your bed?” LittleMan asked.
“Yeah.  Let’s get home.”

Less than an hour later, Babygirl had acquiesced to a beautiful nightgown instead of a day dress and both the kids were snuggled up watching Scooby Doo, red-eyed and wet-haired and pink-cheeked in that way that kids only get after a good summer day.  As dinner cooked, I puttered around the apartment hanging up damp swimsuits and emptying the snack crumbs from our bag.  Checking in on the kids, I realized that Babygirl was in a deep sleep.

Running the world is hard work, I thought, brushing her damp bangs off her face, but someone has to do it.  

My mom likes to say that some days you claim success if you simply manage to keep everyone alive.

Alive and present, mindful and joyful.

Exhausted.  Successful.

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