I flew out of town this July 4th, with my family, to visit my sister, her husband, and her two sons - Joshua is five and Matthew is two. She was extremely excited to take us to the new gym/pool they had recently joined.
"You won't believe it. It's like the Athletic Club on steroids."
My first indication that something was awry was on the way to the pool Saturday morning at 10:30. My brother-in-law Chris and I were towing Sicily and Matthew in his pristine Land Rover; we had just picked up sandwiches at a deli for lunch and packed them in a cooler. Sicily was cooing to Matthew in the back seat in her most high, beautiful melodic voice that was geared toward little kids. This voice always cracks me up because I remember her perfecting it on John when she wanted something from him. "John? Don't you want me to have the last bite of your macaroni? Don't you? And that cookie? Can I have it, please?" Her voice was so pleasantly hypnotic, he couldn't help agreeing with her in spite of the meaning of her words, and was often left cookie-less and confused by what had just happened. By the time he realized her con, it was too late.
Chris and I were sharing stories about the aquatic feats of our offspring, and I told him about how John had recently lost fear when he turned four and was barreling off the diving board ramp, cannon-balling into the deep end. I stick close by to assure that his rudimentary swim skills will get him to the ladder, but it is impressive. Chris replied incredulously,
"You have a diving board at your swimming pool? That must be a really old pool. We don't have one at our pool, they are too dangerous these days."
Well, yes, it had been around since I was little, but I hadn't realized that diving boards had gone the way of trampolines that weren't encircled by heavy mesh curtains. I guess that's Arkansas for you.
When we arrived, it was indeed the Athletic Club on steroids. The lobby was a giant whirlwind of granite tile and cherry wood, with a large restaurant that boasted everything from smoothies to grilled fish. Chris directed Sicily and I to the women's locker room ("I'll meet you on the other side!"), which contained endless wooden lockers and mirrored walls with granite counter tops. The ceiling was at least twice as high as my 10 foot living room. There were so many corridors leading off of the main hall I worried about getting lost, but we stuck to the straightest possible path and eventually landed in an enclosed swimming lap pool area. I noticed smugly to myself that even though there were a few more lanes, the lap pools were only half as long as the one at my club. Chalk one up for Arkansas.
We exited the lap pool area and there was the large recreational pool with three sectioned areas - a child's play area with beach-angled entrance, the water slides, and more lap pools. An army of red-suited teenage lifeguards flanked the pool, most of them casually talking. They greatly outnumbered the patrons - children and adults combined. Sicily pulled me frantically toward the water slide area - her aunt had bragged about them the day before and her anxious anticipation had built itself into a frenzy. On the way one of the lifeguards complimented me.
"Hey, I like your swim suit. Where did you get it?"
I smiled at her. "Thanks, I got it in Arkansas."
I looked over toward the water slides and there was yellow tape wrapped around all of the poles near the bottom. POLICE LINE - DO NOT CROSS. I wondered in alarm what had happened there.
The life guard glanced casually in the direction I was looking and said, "Are you all headed for the water slides? They don't open for ten more minutes."
I asked, "Is everything OK with the water slides?"
She peered at me, clearly confused by my question. "We never open the water slides until 11:00."
I decided not to ask the more obvious question. Just then Sicily, who had walked ahead, started trotting toward me in a slow canter. The lifeguard looked as alarmed as if she was racing toward us at breakneck speed. She shouted, "SLOW DOWN! No running allowed, " then turned to me with an accusatory voice. "You should really keep an eye on her. Running is not allowed by the pool." I shrugged, "She's six. She forgets. I'll remind her." I walked over toward Sicily, and glanced down at a large painted sign on the concrete. I told her "No diving here Sicily - it's too shallow." We had been practicing diving at our own pool, and I suddenly worried that she might dive in.
The lifeguard, who was still clinging like a parasite, announced in an authoritative voice, "There is no diving allowed at this pool anywhere. Period. No diving." I looked at her. Despite her previous compliment, I was beginning to get annoyed.
"No diving? Why not?"
She replied."It is one less liability for us to worry about." I glanced at her and then scanned the pool, looking at the endless supply of bored lifeguards, and decided if there was anything they needed, it was more things to worry about, not less. I told Sicily we had five more minutes until the water slides opened, and we headed back toward the others to check in.
By the time the water slides did open a few minutes later, I was engrossed in conversation and Sicily impatiently wandered over by herself. I wasn't worried no matter how deep the water was - she has been adept in the water since the middle of last summer. But I did keep an eye on her - sometimes her short height fools the lifeguards and they like to have eye contact with me before they let her proceed. Surely these lifeguards weren't worried - at least two manned the line at the bottom, there was one on top to staunch the flow of children, and one in the water at the bottom, which was no more than five feet deep, to monitor the emerging kids. Still, as I watched Sicily shoot down into the water, the lifeguard at the bottom began to look around so wildly that he reminded me of that girl on The Exorcist, and despite the fact that she was swimming gracefully and effortlessly to the side of the pool, I began to wave my arms frantically in order to assure him that yes, I was aware that my child was on the water slide, and I was watching. What was he so worried about? He was close enough to her that he could easily help her out if she was in trouble, which she was clearly not. Even though he was far away I could make out his stern glare and he must have given an invisible signal to another lifeguard. She came over to remind me that I needed to keep and eye on my child at all times. I nodded until she turned away, then shook my head in disbelief.
My sister noticed, and laughed. "Yeah, there are a whole lot of rules here. I break them every time. I am still learning. Last week I learned that we can't eat food on the lounge chairs, only at the tables."
A little later, John wanted to try the water slides, and I checked on the rules with my sister. "No, there's no height rule. You walk with them, go down first, and then catch them." He was very excited since he is not yet tall enough at our pool - it has recently become a battle every visit. So we climbed the steep, three story wire steps to the top and I made sure John was clear on the rules. He still wanted to go, so I went first. As I went down, I almost caught air on one curve - it was an open tube with water shooting down it, and almost twice as long as our pool slide. I wondered how he would fare. Too late now. I waited at the bottom for him, and the lifeguard stationed there looked at me in frustrated recognition.
"Ma'am, we usually don't allow people to wait on their children at the bottom. You need to move to the side."
"But it's his first time," I said softly.
"OK, just this once." I was beginning to understand the feeling of a prisoner who was let out into the courtyard to smell the fresh air for five minutes.
John didn't like the slide. He didn't cry, but was clearly stunned and shaken, and I gathered him into my arms and assured him he was brave. He looked like he had seen a ghost. If I almost caught air on that one curve, I'll bet he was very airborne.
"No mommy, I wasn't brave."
"John, just because you don't want to do it again doesn't mean you aren't brave. You were very brave to try that big kid slide." I was ashamed of the part inside of me that was slightly grateful that I wouldn't have to battle him over riding our own pool slide for the rest of the summer.
We walked back over to Sicily, who had decided she wanted a picture of herself coming down the slide. I grabbed the camera and enlisted John and Joshua as my sentinels at the bottom of the slide to alert me that it was her turn at the top of the tunneled slide (there were two). I aimed my camera toward the bottom of the slide while they excitedly posted me of her progress. "She went up another step! She's getting higher! She's almost to the top!" I felt a tap on my shoulder.
As I looked around, a face smiled at me broadly - all mirrored sunglasses and crew cut, sort of like a lifeguard version of Tom Cruise. "I'm sorry, we don't allow cameras at this pool. We like to protect our members from exposure." Exposure from what? I replied, a little sharply, "You sure do have a lot of rules at this pool." He nodded in assent, and walked away.
As I walked over to my sister, I announced loudly, "I found out another rule! No cameras! I'll bet you didn't know that one." Sara laughed, "No, I didn't." Her neighborhood friend, who had recently arrived, responded gravely, "I think they are worried that someone might take pictures of the kids in their bathing suits and use them for, you know, child pornography." She said the last two words in a whisper, and I didn't reply, because I didn't really trust what I might say, and I didn't know her very well.
So tonight after I swam my laps and the kids had their 6:30 lesson, I watched Sicily practicing her shallow dive, and I watched John race to the diving board without warning (except from me) and garner momentum down the slide for his cannonball ("Mommy, did I touch the clouds? I didn't feel it, did I reach them?"), and I was happy that my pool wasn't on steroids.
The pool may have been a little strict, but the weather was amazing and the weekend was fabulous. Sara and Chris have the best sushi joint on the planet, and the view of the fireworks at the cul-de-sac down the street from their house left John speechless. Not to mention her friend from work, who threw a fabulous July 4th cookout. We miss them so much already!