Today my kids came up with a pretty awesome plan for our time together: we rode bikes across town, swam in the pool – for hours! – and then shared some delicious Mexican food at our westside HQX restaurant.* By 5:15 PM when it was time to take Phoenix to their soccer game, I was as sleepy and lethargic as if I’d actually ordered the Cadillac Margarita at Los Arcos (which alas, I’d denied myself). It was a good day, and one that I’d already retreated from by 8 PM: face washed, PJs donned, and my mind and body feeling wonderfully stretched.
Nels’ love of and play in water is amazing to me. He cannot swim yet – and I’ve previously detailed the antipathy for swimming that YMCA lessons and my mother’s swim-agenda seem to have helped create. But whatever Nels experiences with anyone else while in the pool, when he and I are together his love of the pool rivals that of his sibling’s – a child who has a huge smile on their face every time they pop up from the water.
Today his body is strong and full of delighted energy. He is attracted to the rapids, the spraying showers; delighted then when out of the blue some forty middle schoolers from Olympia descend on the pool during a time of day that usually only holds us and a few mommies and their babies. He is determined to learn how to submerge his head underwater and experiments with this for a while before I notice this is something new. Phoenix and I offer instructions on blowing out with the nose, and he willingly attempts this – setting challenges for himself. In the river rapids he sees me a few feet away, wrinkles his nose and seals his lips in preparation, and deliberately ducks underwater to travel to me. My laughter upon holding his strong, wiggling body in my arms is long, loud, and genuine. His body and face are open and smiling.
When they open the larger pool’s diving board up he asks me to take him to that side of the pool. It’s much colder there, and too deep for him to touch bottom, but nevertheless he is excited and completely fearless. His body and voice and expressions are Joy. “I’m becoming interested in this!” he shouts, as we tread water back and forth and watch Phoenix – who is also, influenced by the older children, taking more daring dives into the deep end.
Moving on from the pool, his next interest is the waterslide. Over and over he climbs the many steps and comes down the slide – shouting, squealing, smiling, the smallest Little Guy in the sea of middle schoolers. He goes down the slide so many times I retrieve a towel to wrap around me so I can wait at the slide’s base, sitting on the edge of the hot tub. And finally, I decide I have to take a turn too – something I haven’t yet tried, in fact I haven’t gone down a waterslide of any kind since about age sixteen. I tell my son I want to try the slide, and he smiles and takes my hand and leads me. We climb the steps up and up and up – stairs and stairs and stairs. I am far more nervous than it seems an adult should be, and I feel foolish for this – but it just Is. Up at the top, finally, and a lifeguard sits, bored but amiable, alongside the relatively nonthreatening liquid maw.
I watch my youngest fly down the first bend, flopping over like a fish and laughing in the depths. I sit and wait an (interminably long-seeming) ten seconds, the sun on my legs. I think I have pretty legs. It’s peaceful up here in this little tower, looking down at water rushing away from me. The lifeguard says “Go,” and flying through the sun-dappled tube, the warm water, I experience a freedom, a letting-go. I shout at the bend, at a dip, at the speed picking up. A freedom, a joy, a ride – something I wouldn’t have had exactly this way if it weren’t for my babies.
When I get to the bottom of the waterslide I find I was the last person allowed through before it was closed – a rope now stretches across the access doorway. I also discover my son had immediately popped out the slide’s egress and ducked under the rope and ran upstairs to ride – one more time. And the lifeguard apparently allowed it, because a few seconds later here was my Boy again, splashing and smiling.
The three of us shower together after over two hours in the water. I wash the kids’ hair and they hide in lockers while I pack up the towels. I buy the kids some fruit snacks and we eventually get back outside to the bikes – it is a beautiful fall day, sunny with a slight chill, my favorite autumn weather.
After our dinner at Los Arcos we rest – briefly – before Phoenix’s soccer game. Upon arrival on the field we find the girls need to reverse their jerseys; my child pops theirs off (no undershirt underneath), which prompts a few other parents to laugh and comment (half-naked little “girl”, oops!). With a sort of mild surprise I notice the other girls are not encouraged to be barechested for the few seconds it takes to flip the shirts: one girl’s father wraps a blanket around his daughter so she can “change” in privacy (apparently wary of the many, many pedophiles lurking in Gable Field’s bushes). I feel a little depressed at this display; I’ve never understood why social pressure requires us to cover up the chests of pre-pre-pre-pre-preadolescent girls. “You’re going to eventually grow some Dirty Pillows in this whole area here, about seven years from now, and even though today your beautiful bodies look almost exactly like the boys, let’s just make sure you know something unspeakable is going to happen we should keep from other people At All Costs.”
* By the way, I’m thinking of the hard time I often give myself vis-a-vis parenting, and I realize I should give myself 99% of the Awesome Points available because I let my kids play all day, expect them to do chores, and feed them well. How much better can you ask for? Well, Nels specifically asks for more time playing with open flames, and I think Phoenix wishes they could eat candy and ice cream for every meal, but so far I haven’t yet acquiesced to these specifics.