Confessions of a grown up pool rat

I spent the bulk of yesterday at the pool with my son. It was such an interesting day.

We have a couple of pools at my apartment complex but they aren’t very big and aren’t really designed for super little kids. I’ve been wanting to take D up to the rec center in our neighborhood where you can buy a day pass for $4 each and use the pool or whatever else you want, which is a pretty good bargain. But it’s been raining and shitty so often, or we’ve had other stuff we had to go do, and we just haven’t been able to go. Yesterday was hot, sunny and gorgeous and we went up there about 20 minutes after they opened.

We haven’t done much at the rec center since I don’t have a membership. He took swim classes there when he was really little but they wouldn’t advance him past a certain level until after he turned 6 so we started him on classes at another center. Other than that and a couple of other things (my divorce parenting seminar was there, of all places), we just haven’t been there. But you pay your money and go right out to the pool and grab a chair. The whole place was packed by the time the pool had been open an hour, and we were lucky we went early and could grab a couple chairs.

I grew up in my tweens and teens as a pool rat. While I went to summer camp when I was very small, camp only went through around age 12 and then my parents had to find something else for me to do most of the day because they both worked and there was only so much babysitting my older sister wanted to do. I was on the swim and dive teams at the local pool up the street. All I remember about practice is how very, very early it was and how fucking cold the water was most of the time, but we got it done. I am not the type of competitive person who likes to compete against a bunch of other people at the same time, but instead as an individual, so I was a better diver than a swimmer, and usually ended up quitting swim team after a couple of meets every year. But we still had asshole-early practice. After practice, the pool would open and me and my friends would hang out there like all day. I don’t remember sunscreen, and there weren’t any specially packed picnic lunches or anything. If we had money, we’d get junk food at the snack bar or candy from the drugstore across the street. Sometimes me and a girlfriend would walk about a mile up to the Long John Silvers, where you could get a paper boat full of leftover crunchy crispy batter bits for a quarter. That and a coke would be lunch. No wonder I was so damned skinny. Sometimes we’d walk all the way up to the DQ for a cone. But most of the day it was swimming, hanging out, trying to get attention from people we liked and getting a lot of sun. When I got to be old enough, I worked part-time in the office at the pool, checking people in and answering the phone. I remember going through some training for WSI but I was never actually a lifeguard.

I’d walk home around dinnertime and have dinner with my family, and then go back to the pool most nights until it closed. Pool rat.

Yesterday I saw the community pool come to life again. New city, new people, and although much has changed since I was little, in many ways, nothing else has, and that was touching. There’s a lot more sunscreen being applied these days, and there were an enormous number of people to keep track of. The lifeguards had their hands full, as the outdoor pool is really geared specifically towards little kids, with a zero-depth entrance and the deepest part being 3’6″, and they were constantly blowing their whistles and yelling at people to stop running or only slide off the giant floating frog feet first or whatever. I kept looking around at the kids around me to make sure nobody was drowning as there were just so damned many of them. I got hit in the head with a couple of balls people were throwing back and forth, and didn’t mind it in the least. It was chaotic and wonderful. Several strangers tried to play with D but he is skittish about playing with new people. A girl that was at least two years older than him was totally flirting with him and pushed him up on the frog so she could get up behind him and they could slide off together. He was kind of freaked out about her. She was trying to get him to go down the big water slide but he acted like he was 4 instead of 6 and clung to me and said no. He also saw a girl from camp, who came up to him and yelled, “HEY, I KNOW YOU FROM CAMP” and splashed him about 30 times in a row while he stood there looking confused. “Splash her back!” I told him, feeling like I was teaching him the ropes of flirting. He looked embarrassed and shook his head and she swum back to her parents. I saw a lot of “Dad bods” and women who proudly wore bikinis with their mom bodies in such a way that I actually thought, you know, maybe I will get a bikini sometime. Who gives a shit, right? I saw a woman who works in the office at D’s school too, and D said he recognized a few other kids from his school as well, though he didn’t know them personally. We ate junk food from the snack bar and were both genuinely exhausted by the time we left there. Everyone was playing together, laughing, there were tears, injuries, squirt guns and ice cream. This was our July 4th celebration, a day late, since we weren’t able to spend the holiday together, and it did just fine as a substitute for fireworks and mosquito bites.

I’ve never been to that pool before, and yet it felt like I’d been there for years. All that was missing was some cynical talk with other nearby parents while lounging on a chair. No lounging for me, though. He still wants me to be his primary playmate, and since he can’t actually swim it’s good for me to be with him all the time in the water anyway. He did practice some swim class stuff and I made him hold the wall and practice flutter kicks, but he’s still got a long way to go.

We came home and washed off our chlorine and I made hamburgers for us, and tater tots, and some cole slaw. I roasted some asparagus for me because my ass does not need tater tots, and I told him how when I was a kid, I used to go to the pool all by myself and be gone all day and then come home at night for dinner, or when the pool was closed. “You could drive when you were a kid?” he said. It occurred to me he has no idea how kids can even get around unless someone is driving him, because of our overprotective society, that could have me arrested just for having him walk to the corner gas station alone, let alone sending him to a pool alone all day, or out alone on his bike. I told him I walked because it was close, and that sometimes I rode my bike. “I could ride my bike,” he said. “Well, you can’t really ride your bike yet, you still have the training wheels on, but maybe in a few years,” I said, thinking, how in the hell am I going to let him ride his bike anywhere and avoid being arrested for child endangerment? “I could ride my bike to school,” he said, and I said I honestly did not think he would have any idea how to get to school if he were on foot or on a bike, since he has only ever been there via car. It’s also kind of far to walk, but that’s by the by.

When I was his age, I walked to school every day. With my sister, at first, but then she went to middle school by the time I started second grade, a year older than D is now. No way will my kid be able to walk to school alone in another year. Perhaps ever.

How much things have changed. And yet not.

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a grown up pool rat

  1. I’ve been thinking about that kind of stuff a lot, as my daughter prepares to enter kindergarten in about a month. I walked to school/rode buses. But I would never ever allow her to do that at this point. I, too, was a pool rat, walking there by myself and hanging all day listening to Terence Trent D’Arby on the radio. They were super, simple times.

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