This is my fourth summer as a mom. My fourth summer as a mom at the pool. And every year, I am no less surprised than I was the year before. If you ever want a glimpse into someone’s parenting style, watch them at the pool. Does that sound judgmental? Well, it is. I judge.
I’ll admit that there are plenty of times I probably judged a little too quickly. I can remember when my son was a wee little babe. This was back when I and my new mom friends would meet at the mall to hang out because we just didn’t know what to do with ourselves. I specifically remember sitting at the mall food court and scoffing at the mother feeding her two youngsters a Happy Meal of Chicken McNuggets and french fries. “I’ll never feed that junk to my son,” I thought. I think I even said it out loud.
I’m better about judging now. I watch. I observe. I look at the children’s behavior. I look at the parent’s behavior. I look at their interactions. I’m less than impressed with what I see.
We all have bad days as parents. Those days where we hear “Mommy, mommy, mommy, look, mommy. Mommy, look.” And we glance up and say “uh-huh, that’s great” and continue on reading a magazine. I just want a moment to read one article. That’s not what I’m talking about.
Let me give you a few examples that I’ve seen over the years.
- The new mother sunning herself by the pool while holding her newborn wearing only a diaper on her chest. People don’t seem to get the whole babies-can’t-regulate-their-body-temperature thing.
- The ultra-tan mom who lays for hours on end in her pink bikini while drinking beer after beer with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, her young daughter, while admittedly annoying, gets into everyone’s personal space in the pool because she is so starved for attention.
- The mom who brings her lonely son to the pool who quietly plays by himself because his mother sits in a chair texting the entire time. Oh wait. She stopped once to get him a candy bar and diet soda from the vending machine.
Today, however, was a bit more shocking. We were at the pool with my 3 year old son and our neighbors, who have a 7 year old autistic son. I only mention that he is autistic because I am well aware that kids come in all different shapes, sizes, and with different backgrounds. A child’s behavior can’t always be judged appropriately. A parent’s behavior can.
While we were swimming in the large shallow end of the pool, a young boy, maybe around 5 or 6 years old, kept invading our personal space – a sure cry for attention. He was latching on to my husband. He was taking toys and floats that didn’t belong to him. He even rummaged through my neighbor’s beach bag removing a shovel and bucket and refusing to return it. A young girl stepped in and helped. I still didn’t know who he belonged to.
I was taking advantage of the 3 other adults in my party and spending a quiet moment at our table. Enter the child. This little boy comes to the table, looks at me, grabs a snorkel off of our table, and starts to walk away. I simply say “Excuse me” and he quickens his pace away from me. Then I see him drop into the pool.
He dropped into the middle section of the pool which is the largest section and averages 4 1/2 feet deep. I think to myself first, “I’m going to have to chase that little brat into the pool.” Then I think, “oh, I guess this kid can swim.” Then I realize, “oh, this kid CAN’T swim.”
He drops the snorkel to the bottom of the pool. His head bobs near the surfaces. He gasps for air as I yell, “can you swim?” It takes me about 3 seconds to realize that he can’t and I reach in for his hand. He grabs on to me and I lift him out of the pool. He is crying and choking and I ask him where his mommy and daddy are. I ask him again. And then his dad who is apparently standing 5 feet away from me turns around and sees what is going on. He asks, “did he jump in the pool?”
I calmly reply, “Your son stole my snorkel and then ran and jumped into the pool. At first, I thought he could swim but now I know that he can’t.” He says “oh, sorry” and walks away. His mother quickly joins him and starts yelling at the boy for jumping into the pool when he wasn’t supposed to.
I know I don’t need to spell out what I’m thinking at this point. Because I know all of you are already feeling what I was feeling. But I’ll say it anyway.
Why haven’t you been watching your child?
Why has he been clinging to everyone here at the pool?
Why is your son stealing everyone’s things?
Why did he steal my snorkel?
Why did he run away from me? (not a normal child response, if you ask me)
Why did he jump into the pool in an area that he knew was over his head?
Why didn’t you notice your son doing all of this when you were only 8 feet away?
When I pulled him out of the water, how could your ears not be tuned to the sound of his voice in distress?
Why did you not thank me for pulling him out of the water?
I wasn’t trying to be a hero. I was just trying to get my snorkel back. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. With a son of my own, I know that, as a parent, I have some acts of stupidity ahead of me. I know my back might be turned at the wrong time. I just hope that someone is paying attention. And then I will be sure to thank them profusely.