Sink or Swim

The younger one squealed with delight as I chased him around the bench in the locker room trying desperately to get the swim trunks over his little middle. He came to a quick stop as he almost crashed directly into the group of naked elderly men coming in from the direction of the showers. Given pause by the sudden surreal moment, I snatched him up and hustled him over to the area where our locker was open and crammed with my dry clothes.

“Please don’t talk about their penis’, please don’t talk about their penis’, please don’t talk about their penis’…”

I repeated in my head as I am sure many other fathers have done in this situation, and begin to make all sorts of small talk to the child, in the hopes of keeping him focused on something other than genitals.

What kind of cake should I have for my birthday?

Lighting McQueen cake! That would be good.

But I’m not super into that. I mean what flavor?

Ummmmmmm, black cake. Dad? You um gonna have toys on your cake?

I haven’t decided yet, what do you think?

Um yes, like a bomb cake.

A bomb cake?

Yeah (he chuckle snorts) they you would have cake popped on you face when you blow it out!

By the time the older one had turned three, he had already had some sort of formal swim instruction, as well as a weekly swim date with his father or mother. As a result he enjoys being in the water, awkwardly kicking and splashing his way in one direction or another.

The younger one however has been totally neglected, which is sadly typical of our frantic life. Fortunately for us, right down the road a ways is a glorious community center with a modern and child friendly pool. I have recently become more determined then ever to get him comfortable in the water.

I never spent too much time in public swim centers as a child. We were fortunate enough to enjoy the luxury of a state of the art, metal sided and plastic lined above ground pool.

It was a larger variety, with brown sides and a yellow metal fold over top lip which would create a shelf wide enough to put a drink on, and simultaneously house yellow jacket nests underneath.

The family pool was kept clean by two very important features. Firstly, there was the chemical balance. My father, being a pharmacist, had a certain level of pride when getting the tackle box testing kit out of the shed. Holding us as a captive audience. He dipped in the tubes and dropped in the various drips of liquids. Then he would triumphantly hold up the card with the “correct colors” next to them to decipher what he should add.  Then I can only assume his intimate working knowledge of chemical balance would kick in, and he would add pounds and heaps of white powders that would give the water the cleanliness and swim-ability of some of the more potent acid pools in Yellowstone National Park. On quiet evenings, you could sometime hear the screams of bugs as they plunged and sizzled into those dark waters.

The second most important part of keeping the family pool clean was the pump and filters. The filters were long tubes attached to what looked like the engine from a push mower, and they would have to be hosed off weekly.  It was powered via an underground power line, which was dug in from the shed, and terminated in what could only be described as an outlet on a stick. All you would have to do to turn it on and off was simply go and plug or unplug it as you were standing in a huge of splashed out pool water.

So between having your eyes singed out of your skull, and being electrocuted, we were well positioned to love the water experience.

The thing I really like about our community center is the cleanliness. Cleanliness especially when it comes to rooms, whose engineering is based on tiles, has become something I pay more attention to now that I am raising two boys. There are times in our own bathroom when I have to wonder if they even have their eyes open when the pee.

After the customary pee, (or on difficult days, the #2) we make our way to the showers. Usually we encounter and number of more naked old men, who are busily chatting away about the market, golf game, or doctor visit, all the while cleaning themselves in every manner conceivable. More small talk with the boy is not necessary as he is too busy screaming about the mandatory pre-swim rinse. Upon leaving the locker room, we go down a small dark hallway. This small span of 25 feet is in fact, the coldest point on the surface of the earth. Science has yet to explain it. But it does allow for you to completely appreciate the semi-heated water of the pool. At least, I hope it’s heated.

We usually go to what is know as family swim. Family swim generally consists of one child to one parent, who for the most part cannot believe they have to put on a bathing suit in February.  The children usually toddle around the splashing fountains, or ride on the parent’s back with a larynx crushing hold as they glide into the deeper waters.

Open swim usually begins sometime after school hours. It consists firstly of grade school kids and their parents, who can’t believe they are at the pool either, but who can sit on the side fully clothed and play Angry Birds. But it really kicks into full swing when the pre-teens and teens start to roll in during the evening hours. Once you see the sheen of axe body wash on the surface of a noisy pool, you never go to open swim again.

Whoever designed the pool was merciful enough to make the wading area just deep enough for a parent to hide their winter shame just below the surface, while still being able to engage with their child in the pipes that shoot water, the dumping buckets, the geysers bubbling up which as we found out, you are not allowed to sit, stand on, touch, block or otherwise do anything but look at. In between getting out to run through the arctic hall to the bathroom. (At least he doesn’t pee in the pool) we are able to have a good hour or more to swim

Looking back at our brown aboveground behemoth pool in the day and age of infinity pools and grottos, it does seem a little dated. However it is easy to remember all those fun summers and realize just how lucky we were. Especially given the irony that my father does not swim. He does not even like to be in the water. He knows just enough about swimming to keep himself floating until help arrived. As a matter of fact, having the pool was essentially a huge pain in the ass for the man. You would have to store the endless bags of chemicals, as well as the hose/vacuum system that apart from being clumsy and awkward to use, was something that would need to happen weekly. Not to mention the trips to the pool supply store, which at that time was one of the only one in the state, and was 30 miles one way. But being the man he is, he did it for us- To give us the chance to fall in love with the water. To sit and watch his children create summer memories together doing something we all grew to love.

Once we are wrinkled from the water, and I can see he is getting tired; we reverse engineer the trip through the locker room. I sit and talk to him as he is wrapped naked dripping in his towel. His toes are brightly painted, a fanciful by-product my children watching their mother painting her feet. And combined with his hair feathering large from the pool water, I feel as though I have a shrunken member of Flock of Seagulls with me. I fight to get his clothes back on his dry-ish body, as he softly sings a song about a little red caboose while looking quizzically at the penis of the 68 year old man on the bench next to us. Until finally I carry him, still dripping and exhausted to the car.

Dad, did I do good at swimming today?

Heck yes you did!

Remember when I rode the noodle horse and fell off?! That was sure crazy!

Yes, it was. I am really proud of you today.

Dad you like swimming?

I do. But I like swimming with you more.

I watch him start to doze off in the back seat; hair still wet and skin faintly smelling of a childhood summers in the back yard.


About D.Jeinkins

a married father of two boys, trying in desparation to preserve his sanity
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