How Public Swimming Pools Made Me A Better Parent.

I can’t imagine that the public swimming pool would have lasted without the patronage of parents.

There we are, forever entrenched around the poolside like sweating golems, or wading patiently alongside our most precious ones, red faced and resembling some form of over worked, flailing aquatic mammal. The pool is a place to either distract those whose energy levels never drop below frantic or to engage with them in the most primal and joyous of ways. My six year old and I tend toward the crazed end of the spectrum; the chasing, battling, splashing and playing type of interaction. We are by no means atypical of parent/child dynamics within the pool though, I must say. I don’t know if there is such a thing.

I remember one time there being a man standing at the side of the pool. He was dressed in the crispest, most ironed white shirt I have ever seen and his pants were spectacularly business like. I could have sliced tomatoes upon the creases. He stood like a machine, hard and rigid, his hands on his hips and his head perpetually moving from side to side scanning those around him with a cold and calculating eye. He looked like a bouncer for Microsoft or some form of Terminator from the future, sent back to prevent or cause some form of horrific, swimming pool japery gone wrong which destroys the future of all mankind. After a short period of time he marched to the very edge of the pool, his Italian designer shoes bravely peeking over the edge and he pointed at one particular boy frolicking in the pool as if lightning bolts were about to launch from his fingertip. The man then pointed at his wrist watch – which I can only assume was far more impressive than the Marvin The Martian one which use to adorn my wrist – and then shot his hand back out, his arm straight and true, his fingers spread out, presumably meant to signify the number ‘5’. Then he stepped backwards and resumed his previous stance. His head moved back and forth; he did not acknowledge the pool before him. That is until exactly 60 seconds later when he repeated his previous flourish of movement, every action measured and exactly the same as before, only this time ending the ballet with only four fingers outstretched.

My little one and I were now mesmerized. What did it all mean? Was it some form of aquatic semaphore? The signing of a very aggressive deaf person? A life guard with little social skill? Some form of interpretive dance? We knew not.  Unfortunately, the boy who was the subject of these gestures knew exactly what they meant and as the man repeated the ritual, each time holding up one less finger, the boy’s whole demeanor changed. When the man finally had no more fingers left to extend, he simply pointed at the boy then the man pointed at his own, designer shoe clad feet. I have often seen people do this when they are calling their dog to them after it has committed some form of canine embarrassment. That was the look on the boy’s face. He looked terrified and sad. When he pulled himself reluctantly out of the pool the man, presumably his father held out his hand with a towel gripped in it. The boy took it and sloped away to get changed. The man did not make eye contact with him once. When the boy returned, surprisingly quick from the changing rooms, the man was already waiting at the door, his car keys in his hand.  The man held the door open and the boy cowered out before him. They made no contact of any kind.

I imagine that my son and I played a little longer in the pool that day; a little crazier, a little wilder. I made a little pledge to myself that I would never become that man, that parent.

I would aspire to be more like the mum who patiently guided her four children through the waters with the Solomon –like usage of a few water noodles and a body board. I remember watching as all four kids glided through the water, smiling and silent, hanging upon her every gesture and word. I would be more like the great, floating island of man who, even though he could barely move in the water, was so much fun with his kids that my own abandoned me to join in. I would be the granddad who so desperately wanted to get into the water with his grandson, but for whatever reason could not, instead chose to  follow him around the edge, constantly engaging with him, making him laugh and lighting the air with his pride in him.

I would not ignore my child’s achievements, no matter how cosmically insignificant they were. I would treasure every handstand, backflip and flatulent bubble created within those waters. I would never pace away from the pool whilst talking on my mobile, impatient with the fact that my child simply wants my attention and time. I would not berate my child for having too much fun in a place designed specifically to have too much fun in. I would always acknowledge and honor the fact that once you step into a swimming pool with a child you are in their world and subject to their rules. I would therefore forever take the requisite bumps, near drownings and occasional tears (theirs and my own) that this duty engenders.

The public pool is a funny place. You are half naked among strangers, engaged in the most physical of activities with your body and soul laid bare by its exertions. You truly get to know a person, to know yourself under these conditions. I believe that all positions of power, authority or leadership should be determined on the observance of time spent with children at the pool. Our leaders would be great people then.

Like all good parents try to be.

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