As the temperatures hit the 100's I concede that a house with a swimming pool, might have been a good idea afterall. Now that they can all swim, or rather move in the water and continue breathing at regular intervals, it seems a good idea to share. I choose an afternoon when the boys are otherwise occupied and invite my daughter's pal. I leave several messages on her mother's answering machine. Can she come? Can she swim? Does mother have any objections, warnings or advice? Would she like to come too?
To non-Americans this may seem like overkill, but I'm up to the mark on statistics. It's not 'just' the drowning, the second leading cause of death of young people under the age of 14 but also, that for every one child that dies another five suffers “serious injury.”
I have always been paranoid about the pool, despite all it's safety features. It's been a long period of adjustment for me. In England only millionaires and celebrities have pools. Here, there are community pools, pools in apartments blocks and the tattiest of hotels. It's a different culture. For me, pool and non-swimmers is a bad combination, so we taught them to swim. Pool and swimmers, can still be a bad combination. The only safety feature that functions in my psyche is my personal, physical presence at all times, despite the dodgy eyesight. With the boys gone I shall be able to concentrate fully on the guest. Two lives are so much easier than four.
As the day draws on and no returning phone call transpires, I cringe at the thought of explaining to my daughter. Without parental contact it's a non-starter.
At school collection time, my daughter and pal squeal with excitement, the way that only truly little girls can. There is no sign of her mother. I start my painful explanation to shrieks of protest. “My mom's over in the car, she's brought my stuff, she said she would!” We move in the direction of the car, idling near the curb. As I bring up the rear I see her grab her swimming gear through the open window, which prompts me to gallop forward before I'm stranded, breathless. Pal's mother smiles, “hi Natalie, I got yur messages, here's her stuff. What time shall I pick her up?” I'm set off track by the offer of collection, the opportunity to pin point that all to elusive time factor. We agree on five and off she goes. I remember all my un-answered questions in the dust.
I sit on the edge of the pool in the shade lurking, a knitting gnome at the deep end. My fingers flick, the wool gets soggy, my legs dangle in the waater and my eyes watch two, sleek, otter heads. Neither was happy with my blanket refusal of 'privacy,' no negotiation. The dictator has spoken. It's official, a smothering mother but I'm glad she's unfamiliar with the term 'over protective,' as she rolls her eyes. It's supposed to be fun so, I kept my interrogation to a minimum, 'yes I can swim,' had to suffice. I wait for a footfall, a mis-step or an earthquake. I shift my weight on the cement, ever poised, ever so slightly numb. They play rather than swim, but it's too hot for anything but lethargy.
A couple of hours later they are transformed into pickled walnuts. They take themselves off to the shower and to empty the hot water tank. With the pool safely locked away, I commence snack preparation. I hope it's been fun. They looked like they were having fun. They sounded like they were having fun.
The boys come home at the same time as pal's mother arrives to collect her. Pandemonium ensues when they realize that pal is about to leave. Whilst they have endured their double therapy afternoon, they've also been swindled out of a vicarious play date.
Amid the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, tearful farewells emerge, tender and ever so slightly damp bathing attire. I enjoy a private beam moment. Not so long back they didn't have play dates, nor friends come to think of it. As for 'play,' well who would want to do that?
The thermometer reads a piping 88 degrees. We wave from the door in a huddle cuddle [*] as she calls, “didn't know she'd remember how to swim after last year.” The sweat on my brow fights the chill in my blood, the stuff of nightmares and life times of regret. If 'Paranoid' were a club, I'd be the fully paid up member.
[*] 'Huddle cuddle' = ancient English. Refers to the close physical bodily contact of any number of parties which serves to calm and ground the group, ward off bolting tendencies and significantly reduce the incidence of parental panic. Warning- over enthusiastic use of the huddle cuddle may result in instability, imbalance and internal implosion similar to that of the collapsed rugby scrub.
Fast forward a few generations:- ………….
“Hey Chuck! Is that your great gran sittin there on the side of the pool knittin?”
“Is she watchin us?”
“Yeah. She's like a baby sitter, fraid of unemployment.”
“Does she know we're on the Olympic swim team?”
“Sure. What can I say, she has trust issues.”
“What's she gonna do if one of us drowns man?”
“I dunno, but she knows CPR and she's got 911 on speed dial.”
Here are links to my last three posts on “Trusera.”