Cotton ball clouds dot the warm blue sky. The outside air lays thick and heavy. Inside, the AC cranks. The house smells vaguely of coconut. “Come on guys!” I yell. I’m trying to be encouraging, but we all know I sound impatient and demanding. Four kids scrambled into suits while I threw an unopened box of Cheez-Its into our once extra large, now too small, faded navy and green canvas pool bag. I sardined four towels into its strained opening atop goggles and dive toys and the random detritus of summers past. “Let’s go!”
Children of all ages hustle past me, in front of me, around me. I grab the pool bag and a seltzer. A coffee? A water? I can’t remember. It was one of those three—something liquid and close to me on the counter. I’m already sweating.
We pile into the car. I send one child back to the house to grab shoes.
At the pool, we unload like a nautical circus car: legs and lycra and laughter. I lumber across the parking lot carrying the one thousand pound bag into the cinderblock bathhouse I can't help but love. It’s dated, painted a pale purple, and it's exactly what I’d imagine a suburban pool in the 70s should look like.
My oldest daughter signs us in and the kids race through the locker room. They discard shoes and shirts on a lounge chair under an umbrella. There’s a flurry of towel throwing, sunscreen lathering, and goggle finding. Then the big kids swim to the diving well. The youngest finds a friend in the shallow end. The middle one contents himself by the steps with a blue squirt gun that set me back two dollars.
For a moment, I sit alone.
I’m sure to be interrupted at least 50 times in the next 20 minutes, but I pull out the book I slipped into the bag under the towels, flip to the page where I’ve placed the torn receipt now relegated as a bookmark, but before I start to read I look up. I find each child. Count: one, two, three, four. Everyone’s safe.
I look down, Where was I? Three minutes later, I look up. One, two, threeeeeeee?—there he is—four. I look back down and find my place again. Two more paragraphs; I look up. My youngest daughter drips over asking for diving toys. Four more sentences. Then my son wants different goggles, the ones that look like a snorkel mask.
When the lifeguards whistle break time, my kids descend like seagulls at the beach after spotting a spilled bag of goldfish. It’s okay, I expect it. I am their home base. Their safe spot. Their reset, recharge, and rest before going back out into the world. What I mean is, I have the snacks.
They devour 1,300 calories in less than two minutes and, for a moment, they sit in satiated silence. We watch a group of young moms walk in through the locker room and head to the fenced off baby pool area—my old stomping grounds. A gaggle of children toddle behind them like chubby little ducklings.
For a moment, I’m transported back in time. My oldest daughter was five weeks old the first time I took her to the pool. She wore a watermelon bikini, a pink hat, and a gallon of SPF 80 on her six pound body. She didn’t love the water, but didn’t hate it either. I called it a win. Every summer since, for the last 13 years, I’ve come to the pool with my kids almost every day.
I showed up with one baby, then two. With three, then four. I’ve come hugely pregnant, feeling like a beached whale, and that one summer when I committed to working out twice a day. I was there when I had a baby in my arms, a toddler in a puddle jumper, and a five-year-old who couldn’t get enough of her new skill of not drowning. Until recently, I’ve never been farther than an arm's length away from my youngest kids in the pool.
“Can we get a popsicle?” my kids ask, interrupting my reminiscing. No.
“Can we stay another hour?” Yes.
“Are you going to get in with us?” Not today.
“Because I’m not wearing a swimsuit.”
“Put it on!” my six-year-old says.
I look him in the eye and confess. “I didn’t bring one,” trying to hide the smile that wants to betray my Shocking, isn’t it? face.
All four kids look at me, confused.
I nod. Because I’m very serious.
Yes kids, it’s true. I rolled into this joint with all of you who now know how to swim and no, I did not wear a swimsuit. I didn’t even bring one—on purpose! Of course, I’m prepared to jump in after any one of you, fully clothed if necessary. But if all goes well, my only real plan here today is to sit in the shade, loosely supervise you, and read. You guys can basically do whatever you want that’s on this side of safe until I say it’s time to go.
My kids tilt their heads and squint their eyes.
I look past them to the moms in the baby pool. The ones navigating around those bulky strollers. I smile at the children in the floppy sun hats and pointless swim diapers. I feel a twinge in the back of my throat. That rainbow swimsuit is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. What I’d give to smoosh a wet squishy baby right about now.
Sitting on the lounge chair, surprised by my nostalgia, while also itching for break time to be over so my kids will get back in the pool and I can get back to my book, I realize what’s happened:
I’m that mom.
It hits me like an unexpected splash of cold water.
I’m that mom I used to look over at—from the baby pool to the big pool—right before scooping up my toddler assuming the I-gotta-poop position from the middle of the water. I’m that mom lounging under the umbrella I stole glances at, when I stood in the frigid water waiting to catch the child insisting on going down the slide—again—while I held her slippery baby brother on my hip. I’m that mom with a book, the one I longed to be while extending my arms out for my delighted preschooler’s 700th jump, sure that chlorine was seeping into the deepest recesses of my soul. Does that mom even know where her kids are? How many pages has she read without looking up?!
Now, I’m her.
I’m that mom who brings a book instead of swim diapers. Wears a bra instead of a one piece. Sits in the shade instead of slathering on sunscreen.
How can this be?
I take in the moment physically, with a deep, appreciative breath.
The whistle blows. My kids leave. I grab my book, open it, and settle back into my chair. I look up and count. One, two, three, four. During my scan, I notice another mom across the pool.
She’s alone. Also under an umbrella. Unlike me, she’s in a bathing suit. Her kids are older and I don’t think they’re here. (Aren’t they old enough to drive?) Her head rests back, tilts a little to the right. One hand lies on her stomach and another at her side. Her jaw is loose. She’s breathing deep and rhythmically. She doesn’t even have a book. Bold. I think. Not even messing around with reading material.
When will I be that mom? The one who comes here because she can, who wears a suit because she wants to, who lays on a chair and falls asleep because she’s raised her kids into their teens and she deserves this snooze, because finally—finally!—she doesn’t even have to do routine headcounts.
I look from her to the moms in the baby pool.
Those years with young kids were hard and exhausting and the sweetest ever, but they’re over. I could long for them, say things like those were the best years of my life, but it wouldn’t be true. And what good would that do for anyone anyway?
And the mom across from me? The mom I might be one day? The me in my future? As much as I wished away so much of those baby years, and even though I’m tempted to jump ahead even now, I don’t want what she has enough to miss what’s here in front of me.
I scan the pool again. Count the four heads I love more than anything in the world. I press my lips together and bow my head just slightly: I’m thankful. For this moment. Right here, right now.
Then I crack open my book and start to read.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.