Pool Digressions, Part II

All the swimming we’ve been doing around here might not seem momentous, but let me tell you, here  at “Camp Fun Mom” (which isn’t, according to Elder Girleen, all that fun, and where the mornings’ schedule of activities isn’t complete until she teases Younger Girleen until she roars like a small enraged lion) it’s a huge deal, particularly since Younger Girleen spent much of the previous month unwilling to stick much more than a big toe in water.  She didn’t even want to get in the bathtub!* 

During the month of June, getting Younger Girleen in the swimming pool at all required the sort of diplomatic skills needed to diffuse high-level tensions between warring nations; once she was in the water, the only thing that kept her there was a death-grip on the straps of my bathing suit that, though comforting to her, played hell on my my sense of modesty.  Because of all that, I was pretty sure that July’s twice-a-week swimming lessons, signed up for in February before we discovered this new-found dislike of water, would be a blood bath.  
I kept these dark thoughts to myself and talked up swimming lessons like nobody’s business.  Wow, I have mermaids for daughters!  The teachers (from Emory U’s swim team) are so cool!  They have swimming in the Olympics! The Olympics will be on TV in three weeks!  We’ll stay up to watch them! 
Even so, when we got to the pool the first day, I was prepared to have to peel Younger Girleen off my body. 
But the teachers stood in a line in front of the pool and called out the names of their students.  Younger Girleen heard hers…
… and trotted off, her hand confidingly nestled in her teacher’s.
And that was that.  
And by the time I looked at the other end of the pool,   Elder Girleen was occupied with her class, doing the back stroke.  Doing the breast stroke, which I didn’t tackle until probably age 10 or 11.  
And me?  A moment’s work, and there I was, transformed, for thirty minutes at least, into the sort of mom I’d always noticed and often envied, but never imagined I could ever be:  she who sits under an umbrella with something icy to drink and reads while her offspring are occupied in the water.  
Of course, because such a thing had never happened before, I had nothing to read.  But by the next lesson, I was prepared, with a copy of this year’s Best American Short Stories (the one edited by Stephen King), tucked into the enormous tote bag any trip to the pool requires these days.  
I found my chair shaded-by-umbrella, I got my something icy from the snack bar upstairs, I opened  Best American Short Stories  to the first page of the first story.  
A mom acquaintance strolled by.  
What’re you reading?  she asked.
I closed the book and turned it so she could see the cover. 
—  Grown-up reading!  she said admiringly.
I admitted I hadn’t actually read more than the first sentence; she resumed her stroll. 
Elder Girleen’s lesson was taking place at the near end of the pool.  I glanced up from my book, searching for a glimpse of her wet, sleek head.  She was hanging on the side, listening carefully to the instructor as he modeled proper form for the crawl.  He said something, she nodded, a broad white-toothed smile transformed her face.  
I bent my head to my book and read the second sentence of the first story.
I looked up and toward the other end of the pool.  Younger Girleen’s class sat at the edge of the pool, feet dangling, as their instructor took them one by one into the water. Younger Girleen’s turn came; her instructor stretched out her arms, without hesitation Younger Girleen jumped into them.  
I bent my head and reread the second sentence of the first story.  
How odd it felt, to be off-stage.  It wasn’t a bad feeling, by any means, but it was an unfamiliar one.  To step back and see my children as themselves, to be able to observe them from a remove:  parents of children under the age of six or so are seldom given such opportunities. 
I looked up again.  Elder Girleen hung on the side of the pool, chatting to the girl beside her.  
I bent my head and reread the second sentence of the first story. 
At the other end of the pool, Younger Girleen was steering a kickboard through the water,  serious as some small tug boat.
I looked down at my book.  And closed it.  
I suppose some mothers have the knack — of using their time wisely.  Of compartmentalizing…of making use of every single spare second they’ve got to keep a more grown-up life afloat.
Some mothers have the knack, but apparently I’m not one of them. 
I know I spend a lot of time — probably too much time – on this blog hashing out the either/or of motherhood and work, the before and after of childlessness and parenthood.  For some folks, these aren’t even categories that invite discussion.  They don’t matter — or maybe those folks just gotten past those questions.  
Me, I’m still standing here in the shallow end,  wondering how to make sense of my life, now that I’m audience, stagehand, and sometimes, yes,  even bit performer shoring up the leads, all of us participating in such a beautiful, beautiful, mesmerizing show.
 *Are you afraid of going down the drain? asked Shortsighted Mama when we first started having this “situation.” Oh yeah, said Shortsighted Mama’s higher-IQ’d offspring, grasping that tow rope of explanation thrown out so handily, even though such a thought had never occurred to her before).  


  1. I always say books serve as great lap covers when at the shore or the pool. It’s the noise – of the gulls or the kids or the splashing or the whistling guards that keep you from actually reading anything. Or the kids yelling out, “Look at me mama!”

    Happy Summer!

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