June 27, 2015

Cool at the pool

Ah, summer.  Fun in the sun.  Relaxing by the pool.  Enjoying adult conversation while the kids chill out and splash around in the shallow end.  Nothing beats long, hot, leisurely summer hours spent at the pool.  

I often wonder how parents of young kids survive the summer without a pool membership to keep them cool, collected, and sane.  People who either work full time or have the misfortune of living in a town without an affordable, local option, are exempt from my pool-membership-must-have school of thought.  Without the time to spend or the convenience of getting to a local swimming hangout, a pool membership would make no sense.  My hope is that these folks have friends with backyard pools or beach houses so they are able to score splashy invites making June, July, and August tolerable. 

There are a few factors that have led to my personal pool dependency.
     #1.  Coach and I avoid cranking the air conditioning unless:  the heat index is life threatening, we are entertaining, or we are caring for an infant (it has been 7 years since Curly could be classified as an infant).  Because the huge bill that accompanies fridge like temperatures flowing through the house is unwelcome, we tend to rely on the refreshing pool waters to cope with the hot summer months.
     #2.  My childhood summers were spent at the pool.  My siblings and I endured plenty of structure during the months when school was not in session.  We kept lists of the books we read, attended sports camps, accomplished chores, and hung out with friends.  Majority of our time, however, was whiled away at a nearby pool.
     #3.  I tan.  Despite my mostly Irish heritage, my skin darkens after being exposed to the sun.  No freckles on this Irish lass.  Lobster-like burns are extremely rare for me.  Although it is increasingly more popular to sit under an umbrella and avoid the sun's powerful rays, I credit my paternal grandmother's Hungarian blood for my tanning capabilities. 

Growing up in the suburbs, riding a bike to the pool was out of the question.  We drove to the private pool we joined each summer in our '76 Impala station wagon.  Getting there involved driving down a very busy street over an expressway without a sidewalk, so we were fortunate enough that my mom carved time out of her day to spend hours at the pool.  She would sunbathe while we competed in gutter ball, jumped off the boards, or dared one another to replicate a new underwater maneuver.  There was a heavy woman, who we would spot daily.  She kicked several laps across the pool utilizing a kick board.  We swam alongside her and imagined that her rhythmic kicking sounded like the heartbeat of a whale.  Of course we managed to incorporate her sound effects into our games, although it was hard to stay underwater near 'the whale' without laughing.  Malt cups were forty cents, the high dive (the ultimate adrenaline supplier) provided a great view of the adjacent public golf course, and the designated adult swim always dragged on a bit too long.

For several years my mom babysat one of Shane's best friends.  Lukas was an only child whose parents both worked.  He lived a few miles away, but he took the bus home with us during the school year.  In the summers he would be dropped off by his mother on her way to work.  He grew to be like another brother to us, but thanks to his Lithuanian lineage we weren't fooling anyone.  His skin was translucent and his hair was white with one part yellow mixed in.  Wherever we went, people recognized that Lukas wasn't really a member of our Irish brood.  Lukas' skin type required that he be slathered in thick white sunscreen before he could swim in the pool.  My siblings and I, who had never really seen sunscreen before, would stand dumbfounded at the process our mom went through to protect this pale kid's skin.  A sun-ray-worshiper herself, she was following strict instructions from Lukas' mother, who was an immigrant from Lithuania.  Eventually mom would be satisfied that the sun wouldn't scorch Lukas, so she sealed the deal with a white t-shirt over the sunscreen.  The lifeguards objected initially citing the rules of the pool.  No clothing could be donned in the water.  My Mom stood her ground.  She shook her head and insisted that it was the only way he could swim.  He was highly susceptible to burning.  No one messes with my mom, so they dropped the subject like an empty tube of sunscreen and Lukas enjoyed hours of fun in the sun . . .  with constant reapplications of white pasty sunscreen, of course.

One particularly hot day, my mom grew frustrated at the number of kids perched on the side of the pool.  We secured our spot on the edge ready to hurl ourselves into the refreshing water once the whistle blew signaling the end of the 15 minute adult swim.  My mom sat and grumbled about the lack of adults in the water.  Finally a few minutes before the whistle, she ordered me to get in the water.  Like I said, no one messes with my mom, so after a second of hesitation I accepted the role as her pawn.  I jumped into the pool and stayed down a bit longer than I was typically capable of.  I heard the muffled whistles and voices yelling for me to get out of the water.  I broke thru the surface just in time to hear my mom come to my defense.  "This is silly.  I told her to get in.  It's too hot to have these kids just sit here.  There are no adults taking advantage of the adult swim, so let the kids swim."  Other kids seized the moment and one after another they began to join me in the pool. 

Eventually Coach and I joined a neighborhood pool near our first house.  Although we have moved across town, we have maintained our membership for the past 16 years.  There were years of loading the double stroller with all of the supplies from the trunk.  An early start with a packed lunch at the pool meant we could still get a few good hours in before it was time to head home for naps.  Naps were often skipped or infants were rocked to sleep in the stroller in order to extend out pool hours.  Even the after math of cranky kids, it was all worth it.  I made friends, shared laughs, and discovered the adult connections I was craving.  The kids played with buddies, perfected their underwater abilities, and wore themselves out.  After dinner swims with Coach when the heat was intolerable or the calendar was wide open (which was often the case when the kids were tots and yet to be overly involved) were special treats.  Social events on the weekends served as a relaxing night out even with kids in tow.  No babysitter necessary.  Just add water.

One summer a few years ago, a woman I didn't know approached me.  She wanted to congratulate me on advancing from the baby pool.  She shared with me that after watching me manage my six little ones at the pool for years, she was so happy to see me sit and read a book at the pool.  It is a different experience now that all six kids are avid swimmers and active swim team members.  Lately, I have been known to nap on my lounge chair or read uninterrupted for long stretches.  I wonder if we will be one of those families that continues to invest in a pool membership after the kids have all moved out.  I wouldn't mind it.

When Laddie and Eddie were very small, I felt like I experienced a bit of the 'pool blues' after Labor Day.  When the pool closed, some of my friendships took a hiatus.  I didn't cross paths regularly with some of the 'pool moms' outside of our summer break hangout.  Even if we bumped into each other at the grocery store or during library story time, it wasn't the same as the outstanding summer experience.  Of course with the close of the pool also came the many neglected household tasks I needed to attack.  There weren't usually enough rainy days all summer to keep the house in order. 

It was often hard to explain to my little ones that the pool was closed for the year.  After all, there were plenty of toasty September days that warranted a quick dip.  I tried other activities on the days when the little guys begged to return to our summer stomping ground.  It may have been Eddie, I'm not sure.  Maybe Reggie.  One of the kids was so insistent that I had the pool closing all wrong, that I ended up driving over to the pool to prove that the water had been drained until the next season.  Maybe I needed just as much convincing. 

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