Right around this time last year, I wrote a post called Parenting by the Poolside. Even though my readership was relatively small, it touched a nerve in a quite a few people. I really wrote it because of my frustration with parents who use the pool as an alternative to TV or video games. In other words, parenting by proxy.
I’ll take you to the pool so it seems like we’re doing something as a family but really I’m going to sit and read a book or magazine, or text and talk, or crack open a can of beer and yell at you if you block my tanning rays.
This is what I wrote about last year. My observations at our community pool. I actually live in a nice neighborhood with a really nice pool. I usually look forward to going and yet the same things happen year after year.
Today was the second time at the pool for me this year. I went on Friday and Evan fell in love with the water all over again. Gone were his 3 year old fears of the water which were replaced by confidence. Well, as much confidence as floaties can give you.
As we were sitting outside today in the sweltering heat and humidity (yes, it’s already arrived in the Carolinas), I asked Evan, on a whim, if he’d like to go to the pool with me. He hesitated about 0.3 seconds and said YES YES YES. It was late in the day and I was hoping to hit the pool just as the holiday weekend crowds were leaving.
We arrived a little after 5pm. The water was chilly and a touch cloudy from the day’s activities but lots of room to play in the water. I did the middle-aged mom thing and slowly and gently got in the water so as not to totally shock my delicate and aging body.
Once I’m in, look out. I’m like a fish. Or a mermaid. I love the water and play to the point of exhaustion (or hunger). Others kids notice and somehow I become a magnet for them. They want to show me every little trick they can do in the water. I smile and nod and say “Wow!” and secretly hope their parents will come and show them some attention.
Today, I had a particularly needy child all over me. We were in the shallow end and Evan and I were playing. She kept joining in and inserting herself right in the middle of our fun. I tried to be polite and encouraging. She even started grabbing on to me like a child would grab her mother.
That’s when I finally looked around for some sign of her parents. She was a darker child and I saw no darker parents. I made no assumptions, though, so I asked her if her mommy was there.
She said,”No, we walked here by ourselves” (referring to her two brothers).
I repeated her, “So neither your mommy or your daddy is here?”
“No,” she replied. That’s when her brother jumped in.
“We have a babysitter at home. But I’m in charge here. I’m 8 years old. Well, I’m 7 but I’m almost 8!”
I was flabbergasted. I needed more details. “What is your babysitter doing?”
His reply: “She’s watching TV or she’s on the computer.”
I had a situation here. I was trying to think of what to do. We have pool attendants who are supposed to monitor the comings and goings of the residents. You weren’t supposed to be there without a guardian if you were under the age of sixteen. And even at sixteen, you could only be there unsupervised if your parents signed a special permission slip.
Once I practically woke the pool attendants up and peeled them away from their cell phone games, I told them what was going on. Their first reaction was how in the world the kids made it past them unsupervised. Hmmmm. I can only guess.
After they gave me a CYA response, they looked at me realizing the seriousness of the situation and said “What should we do?” I’m thinking that the pool management company or somebody should have some sort of procedure for this kind of thing. But apparently not.
I suggested they pull the children (there were three siblings) out of the pool and confirm what I had told them. And then perhaps try to call their parents. If I were out for the evening and knew my babysitter had sent my three children under the age of eight to the swimming pool by themselves and had them walk along a busy road to get there, I would have freaked out.
As the story unfolded, I had a clearer and sadder picture of the reality these children must be living in. They didn’t know their parents’ phone number. As it turns out, their father lives in Ohio. They live with their mother who is away for four days in Florida while they have a 13 year old babysitter “watching” them.
Let’s break down everything that is so horribly wrong with this situation:
- The mother has gone to Florida for 4 days over Memorial Day weekend. I’m assuming it’s not a business trip.
- The mother has entrusted the care of her 3 minor children to a 13 year old girl (which may even violate some laws).
- The 13 year old girl clearly doesn’t have the comprehension of how to properly supervise children. She told them to go to the pool by themselves because she didn’t want to get wet.
- Even if she did accompany them, a 13 year old isn’t old enough to be considered adequate supervision for children (including herself).
- The three children walked a fair distance crossing a busy road to get to the pool.
- The three children were swimming in a pool with no adult supervision (our pool does NOT have lifeguards).
The sad part is I feel like a rat fink. These children were so proud to tell me that they walked to the pool by themselves. They were well-behaved at the pool. They clearly wanted attention. A lot of it. I wanted them to stay and enjoy the pool. But I kept thinking about my friend Ilina’s recent post about drowning.
Kids need supervision. They need someone looking out for them. I couldn’t be that person and the last thing I wanted was for anything to happen to any of them. I wanted to run over as they were being escorted home and tell them I’m sorry and that I wished things were different.
And I do wish they were different, in many many ways. I can only hope that the mother has a bit of a wake up call when she returns. But somehow, I doubt it.