As I waited for my son to emerge from the pool this week, I watched the moms and small children paddle about in the baby pool. My boys are teens now, but how well I remember the days of floaties and swimming diapers. I look back with some wistfulness that those days are gone forever, but also with immense gratitude that I survived.
In my memory those days were always sweltering, so hot that even the daunting prospect of a trip across town with three fractious toddlers (my boys were one year apart so I often felt as though I had triplets), the laborious undressing and suiting up, the collecting of toys, and the slathering of sun block on three small, resisting boys was not enough to deter me from the undertaking. We would arrive at the pool and survey the kiddie pool crowd. The scene was always the same: pink suited, impossibly tiny, blonde babes and their often mirror-image moms bobbed and swayed gently in the water like so many graceful swans and goslings. Wee, cherubic girls poured tidy streams with toy watering cans or carefully scooped with ladles and buckets. A gaggle of moms made easy small talk with one another- it often resembled an outdoor cocktail party or a magazine spread exemplifying graceful summer living.
Then, Da Da DAT da DAAHH! my crew arrived like a pack of Bumpus hounds. I tried desperately to restrain my herd of wild things, but the task was daunting. They hit the gate running and, immediately, the peace was shattered. Tension electrified the air as splashing and yelling ensued. High-pitched wailing arose as small, pastel suited girls were flattened by rogue waves created by my zephyering, canon- balling little boys. My sons seemed to be everywhere at once, mini bundles of incredible energy- and I could feel my blood pressure shooting upwards as I scurried about, desperately putting out the social fires they continuously sparked. Here an accidental, but colossal splash to a face, there a toy grabbed (always a Snoopy-esque snatch) - a grab and go which left the victim momentarily bewildered, mouths agape in shock and set off the inevitable chain of events: screeching from the injured party, chasing of the offender, returning the toy to the indignant child (and parent), the hurried, forced, insincere apology from my son, and ending with the other parent mentally crossing off of our names from the invitation list of their child’s next birthday party.
My sons not only splashed others, snatched toys, and generally ran amok, but enjoyed varying their routine by occasionally sneaking fairly large sticks into the pool area to employ as weaponry. These sticks were crucial for games of water jousting, a less injurious form of the original bicycle jousting; a brief but lively game they invented which may hold a record for being attempted and banned during its trial run. In a lax moment, perhaps when my attention was diverted to my youngest toddler, who was fond of repeatedly bouncing slowly in the water- bobbing in wonder toward the deep end until he inevitably bounced too far, disappeared from sight and had to be rescued- in that moment, my other sons would strip nude and streak gleefully about to the delight of the bored teen lifeguards who were immensely pleased at any diversion. To shake things up a bit, my sons might join forces and create a multiple brown out-thereby shutting down the baby pool for cleaning and sterilization and alienating and disgusting the entire baby pool community.
Although the transgressions were unintentional (mostly) and never committed in a mean spirit, but simply in the goofy, gangly puppy stage that most little boy’s experience, I could tell that some parents thought my sons a menace. Heaven help me if I had to explain an incident to a protective father. On one memorable occasion, a paternal jaw had jutted aggressively and inordinate anger was expressed. After apologizing for my son’s dousing of his daughter and multiple counts of absconding with her kick board, I came away feeling excessively weary. I recall catching a glimpse of myself in the changing room mirror after this particularly grueling pool session (which had also included one of my boys inadvertently backing into a smaller child and toppling them headfirst flailing and shrieking into the pool not once, but three times in rapid succession), in that quick glance I noticed that my face was frozen in a look of apologetic embarrassment and chagrin. I wondered if it would remain that way throughout my sons’ youth.
The parents tried to be kind (mostly), yet it was obvious that parents of many little girls and of the more sedate little boys often thought my guys were a different species; some untamed, dangerous creature; possibly a minute Viking remnant or Cro-Magnon offspring.
I couldn’t blame them, although it wasn’t as if I sat back and allowed my boys to be ill-mannered. I never stopped moving -shepherding them, herding them to more neutral pool ground, speaking in low, firm tones, intervening at every transgression. I was (and continue) earnestly trying to civilize my guys.
Those years were often exhausting, yet I am so glad that I was with my boys; that I had the opportunity to tell them to stop running along the pool the million or so times it took before it finally processed. That is what they needed; a parent to be there, to say the words of guidance as many times as it took. Childhood is a short season. We must fill it with understanding, patience and love- and millions of guiding words.