When the temperatures soar, I look at my sweaty children, imagine the pool we belong to, and think “fun!” Then I think: “uh oh, drowning!”
Over time, that non-specific drowning concern has evolved into targeted worry: “I hope my children don’t drown me right here in front of the disaffected lifeguard!”
With all due respect to Mr. Darwin, this evolutionary process is one that deserves more attention. I spent the first weekends of summer scouring Wal-Mart for water wings that say “I trust my child, but not that much.” My water wing hunt was motivated out of a concern for my children’s safety, distracting me from my own, increasingly vulnerable, position in the pool community.
For the first time, I have two children capable of catastrophic swimming decisions. No longer can I strap my baby into a stroller and position him poolside while my daughter delights us both with her best impression of a mermaid. Now my baby is a toddler, who views a pool as Lewis & Clark viewed the continental divide: a frontier to be traversed, doggedly and without regard to the natives.
I’ve wrapped him in a contraption referred to, in my day, as a “bubble.” I’ve zipped him into life vests. I’ve considered leashing him to a picnic table.
If anything, these precautions have only heightened the danger associated with my son, the swimmer. The bubble inches up his torso until his shoulders have no choice but to rotate, hoisting his arms above his head until he is waving like a back-up dancer. The life vest inevitably dips him sideways, so that he bobs like a cork that swallows. The leash is always met with disapproving stares.
And so I must brave the chlorinated waters, my reflexes primed and my nerves on high alert. If my son is within five feet of the pool’s edge, I must be ready to catch him. If my son approaches the stairs into the water, I must be ready to remind him “STAIRS ARE NOT FOR JUMPING!!!” I spent an afternoon teaching him to count to three before catapulting himself into the pool, so that I could enjoy some warning of his pending flight.
Meanwhile, my daughter is displaying a shocking amount of short-term, selective amnesia. The child who gleefully dove and flipped and somersaulted last summer now believes the pool floor is out to get her. As her lower half sinks for lack of kicking, her upper body does its level best to keep her lips above water, so that she may gurgle “Mami, help me! Please! I can’t! I can’t!”
I extend one arm in what is meant to be a loving stretch, a signal that I am here to grab onto, to protect her from the perils of water she can stand in. I extend the other arm in what is meant to be a clear threat, a warning that I am not ready to catch, to prevent him from injuring himself and the lap swimmers. Both children proceed without interruption, one to flail dramatically, the other to jump enthusiastically.
There I stand, in water up to my waist and last year’s swimsuit. My sunglasses are akimbo, my hair permed by the humidity. I am getting scratched, kicked, and dragged. All signs indicate that, yes, I’ve had the wind knocked out of me.
But there they are, smiling and gleeful. She survived the zero threat posed by calm, shallow waters, and he jumped hard enough to break the sound barrier and, it appears, my wrist. It’s summer, it’s the pool, and it’s mom. She’ll be fine, they telepathically reassure each other.
I will be fine. I mean, I’m almost positive I will survive this summer of swimming with them. Having found no reliable device to save them from themselves, my own body is the least I can offer to facilitate my children’s enjoyment of some splish-splashing.
The news has recently, and appropriately, been abuzz with the precaution that actual drowning doesn’t look like movie drowning.
The stories should include a footnote, though: Actual drowning also sometimes looks like a mother, squatting in the shallow end, trying to octopus her way through a dip with her kids.