The wee ones and I went to the pool today. It was the first time I’ve ever navigated the pool alone. With two small children who are both active and like doing different things in the pools, I’m generally just not comfortable without one adult per child as my ratio. While both wee ones know how to swim – and Mister Man has demonstrated his prowess by swimming twenty-five meters without touching the bottom – that doesn’t mean that I’m comfortable with them much more out of arm’s reach.
Granted, this is just me. I’m paranoid. I know this, and I’m ok with it. I read about kids who know how to swim still drowning. I know the story behind the two year old boy at Mister Man’s school who is still in a coma after a Memorial Day pool accident. It’s just the way I am. I have my rules, and they work for me – and fortunately the wee ones respect them. That’s why we tested the only one adult theory. It worked wonderfully, I’m happy to report.
Not all parents go with this same theory, and I’m fine with that. For the most part. There are parents who watch from the edge of the pool rather than in it. There are parents who let the lifeguards monitor their six and seven year olds while they sit in their lounge chairs and read. While that’s not what I’m comfortable with for my children, I don’t judge. Generally.
Today was an exception. Twice.
A boy who couldn’t be more than three or four was tiptoeing near where the wee ones were jumping into the pool from the edge and then climbing back out. The water was only three and a half feet, but I could see that the boy was on his tip-toes, holding his head back to avoid the water getting in his nose and eyes. There was no parent in site. As I looked on, giving him a wary eye and noting no adult in site, the lifeguard helped him to shallower water where he could safely stand and asked that he be sure to stay in the shallow area. Hello? Parent? Guardian? Nanny? Babysitter? Anyone? I was glad that it was a relatively cool day and the pool wasn’t very crowded.
Less than a half hour later, I heard an announcement on the loudspeaker, “Will the mom of Tommy who is wearing the yellow SpongeBob swimsuit please report to the guard shack.” I looked over, and I could see a little boy, maybe five but probably not (nope, not the same kid, fortunately) holding the hand of one of the lifeguards just looking forlornly towards the pool, doing his best to fight off tears. I looked around, curious to see whose child he was – as he’d obviously gotten lost and couldn’t find his mom. Five minutes later, the message was repeated. No mom appeared.
Another five minutes later, the volume on the loudspeaker was turned up, and the message altered. “Will Kelly the mother of little Tommy wearing the yellow SpongeBob Squarepants swim trunks please report to the guard shack. Please.” Interestingly, there was still nothing.
Really? You haven’t seen your four or five year old son in, what, at least twenty minutes at this point – that’s being generous and figuring he sought out a lifeguard to help find his missing mom ten minutes after he last saw her, and in all honesty, I figure he was probably happily playing for longer than that – and you aren’t searching frantically for him? You aren’t walking around the pool, worry hastening your footsteps as you begin to fear the worst, knowing it’s been too long since you last saw your child? You aren’t running to the lifeguard shack yourself begging them to help you find your missing child? You aren’t alert enough to recognize your child’s name, description and oh, I don’t know, your own name to come sprinting to reassure your child that everything is ok?
The announcement for Kelly to please come claim poor Tommy was made a fourth time. A few minutes later, I saw a woman bending over him, dragging him back to the chair she must have finally vacated. I won’t give you any stereotypes as to what she looked at, because in my mind, ignoring your child and relinquishing your parental responsibilities isn’t subject to a single stereotype. She didn’t appear worried to me, however. She looked angry with him, and she was dragging him by the arm, as though he’d done something wrong and embarrassed her. I turned away in disgust at this point because I realized that I’d begun judging her. I wasn’t ok with her parenting choices. In my mind they’d gone too far from my own and could so easily have left her child in a dangerous situation.
And so the wee ones and I finished up our pool playdate. I hung out with them in the pool, helping them in their follow the leader game, cheering them on as they went down the slides, and monitoring them as they played in the waterfalls, jumping in and out of the pool. I recognized that it was my choice, and I was grateful for the lifeguards who are so astute so that parents can monitor at their own comfort level, which isn’t mine.
And I began to reflect that at some point, I will need to back off. I will need to let them play in the pool without me standing over them, ready to grab them if they show any signs of distress. Someday I’ll be bringing my book and reading in a chair, though glancing up at the end of every page to mark the wee ones visually in the pool. Not yet, but someday. But I promise that when I do, I will make sure the wee ones know where I am, and I will be listening to any and all announcements on the loudspeaker.
At what age did you give your children independence in the pool? Or when are you planning to?