This morning I had a bit of extra time, so I decided to swim some laps at the pool in town. I really love the water, so swimming is a great way for me to blur the line between fun and exercise.
I arrived at the pool at 10 AM, and was surprised to see all of the young moms and dads with toddlers who were there. Apparently, now that my kids are mostly grown, I had forgotten that this is also the time for ‘Teddy Bear Swim’. Teddy Bear Swim was a favorite of ours years ago when we had two little boys at home, and we needed to do something that would help to tire the boys out so that I could have a nap….and sometimes when I was lucky, the boys would sleep too.
Entering the change room, there was the same struggle going on that I remember from 16 years ago – the struggle of getting one toddler out of his winter gear, while the other one starts to wail because he is too hot. Turning to the wailing toddler means that the first one runs away with only one leg in his snow pants, dragging the other leg behind himself through all of the murky water that lurks in every corner of a change room at the pool. The good thing about that dragging snow pant leg is that you can quickly step on it to bring the run away to a fast stop. Sometimes he falls and bangs his head on a bench or into the lockers, but the main thing is that he didn’t run out into the pool area and drown, or worse, into the men’s change room where you can’t follow.
I quietly smiled, and with no struggle whatsoever….except for the stupid clasp at the back of my suit…entered the pool.
The lane pool where I am having a relaxing swim is completely separate from the pool where Teddy Bear Swim is happening. Teddy Bear swim is a time that the pool staff sets aside specifically for moms and dads to bring their pre-school aged children for a swim.
Although it’s separate, I can still see some of the things that are going on in the other pool. As I quietly stroke through the water I can see the Mom with two little boys taking her third trip up the stair case to the top of the water slide. I can see the ‘pure joy’ on her face as she grabs one by the hand, and hoists the smaller one onto her hip for another adventure up the steep and slippery cement stairs. She is probably wondering, as I did, why the boys think this is fun. The slide usually scares them a little at the end, especially when Mom comes hurtling around that final corner and lands on them in the catch pool, nearly drowning everyone involved. As always, after a few tears and apologies from Mom, the boys will want to go again. I am really glad that I don’t have to climb those stairs today.
I can hear the squeals of delight mixed with sheer terror as the lifeguards turn on ‘the mushroom’. The mushroom is a 7 ft tall plastic structure that will randomly shower little water droplets down onto the kids who gather below it. For some kids this is fun, and kind of like being caught in a little rain shower. For other kids, this is someone’s attempt to drown everyone. They are going to have nightmares and will never want to put their pinky toe into water again.
I was that kid. I understand their shrieks and screams of horror, running away as fast as their fat little legs can carry them. Which is not very fast considering that they are carrying an extra 30 lbs of water in their ‘little swimmers’ diapers. Mom or Dad will catch them and spend the next 15 or 20 minutes on the very edge of the pool, trying to coax their little future Olympians back into the water. I am really happy that I got over that fear of drowning…mostly.
I can see the Dad who really just wants to sit in the hot tub for a while. As he gingerly lowers himself into the scorching hot water, he coaxes his little girl to come in with him. While it took him the better part of 3 minutes to gently and carefully lower himself into the heat, she skips down the steps, splashing him and everyone else as she goes. She proceeds to splash and swim and play around in the hot tub, filling her mouth with the water and spitting it on her Dad, she is having the time of her life. The other parents who were enjoying the hot tub while holding their babies on the edge do not share her enthusiasm. One by one they leave, looking for another, shall we say – less splashy area to visit while their little bobble heads enjoy a ‘play date’. The Dad doesn’t appear to care at all about the fact that he has no one to share the hot tub with. He stretches out and encourages his daughter to play some more. I decided that I’ll skip the hot tub for today. Ever since my auntie told me that hot tubs were a haven for STD’s, (when I was about 7 years old), I haven’t really liked them much. I know that Auntie’s story can’t be true, but I hear her voice every time I enter a hot tub, and it kind of kills the ambiance.
After 30 minutes of ‘swimming laps’, which involves a little bit of front crawling, some back stroke, and a lot of doggie paddle – I decide to enjoy the sauna. It’s something that I remember wanting to do when I used to come with the kids, but I never felt really great about taking them into a sauna. This was partially because I was unsure of whether the extreme heat was good for their little bodies, but mostly because I knew that they lacked the social graces to sit in a sauna with other scantily clad adults. I just wasn’t prepared for the kinds of conversation that they might strike up in such a small, quiet place. Conversations like “Mommy is that lady going to have a baby?” or “Why does that man have such hairy legs?” are a sure bet when little guys join you in the sauna.
As I settled back to enjoy the warmth and the smell of hot cedar, I noticed that a window was set up perfectly so that I could gaze out at the pool where Teddy Bear Swim was happening. I looked out at the parents who were doing such a fantastic job of watching over the daredevils who wanted to jump off the sides of the pool, coaxing the less confident into trying something new, and saving the lives of the oblivious ones who just ventured into the water without a care, falling into the depths and being scooped out so they can do it again. I realized just how lucky I am. I am that woman who I envied all those years ago.
I have to admit though, that a little piece of me envies them. While I don’t want to go back to the seemingly endless days of tear, nose and butt wiping – it would be great to grab one of my little fat babies and give them a big belly zerbert again. I could try, but I’m pretty sure the boys wouldn’t think it is as funny now as they used to. And they aren’t chubby anymore, so it wouldn’t work as well.
The time had come to stop playing….I mean exercising. Returning to the change room, I met with another memory that I had long forgotten. In the morning when you arrive at the pool, the change room may have a few damp corners, but that’s nothing compared with what it’s like after an hour or two of toddlers and mothers going in and out.
The state of the floor concerns me. I can’t tell for sure if it’s just water that has dripped off of swimmers, or if a toilet has backed up. I don’t want to think about it. What I do want is a pair of very tall stilts to maneuver myself through this warm, wet area that is littered with random very long hairs, and bits of balled up wet mystery paper. It could be Kleenex, or an old piece of diaper, or….toilet paper. Definitely something that I want to avoid looking at or walking near, and also definitely something that my toddlers would have slid and fell in, and would have had stuck to the side of their face.
I am so happy that I only have me to move through the obstacle course of wet paper and hair elastics to my locker.
I change into my clothes. I am very aware and grateful of the fact that I am the only one that I have to try to fit into the little area behind the curtain. I am also aware and grateful that I can be relatively sure that none of the three-year olds here today are going to fling open the curtain while I am changing so that they can get some help with putting on their shoes. I am relatively sure of this, but I still keep an eye on that curtain just in case. I noticed that the pool staff had a very large sign on display reminding parents to respect others’ privacy when bringing children into the change room area. I can only imagine the story behind that sign. It probably wasn’t nearly as funny as I am imagining.
As I leave the pool for the day, I am so grateful for the stage of life I am in. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that life is progressing along the way that you hoped it would. It seems like only yesterday I was one of these car seat carrying moms who thought the day would never come when I could do something alone and for myself. The day has come, and I am grateful for it.
And – if I have grandkids one day, I will be so thrilled to take them to the pool so that I can relive it all over again!