It is mid-July. We have already endured a mind-numbing heat wave (and loss of electricity in the middle of it.) Some of the leaves on the trees are already crisping up and turning brown. The summer is already almost half over.
And I have been to the pool three times.
My intentions are always so good. The pool that most of our friends and neighbors belong to is a great place to hang out over the summer. When I fill out that (indecently high) check each April for pool membership, I have lovely thoughts about torpid days and warm summer evenings in the shade of the pool, the smell of coconut oil in the teens’ sunscreen, and packing light and healthful snacks and dinners to enjoy with anyone who we happen to run into upon arrival.
The reality is always a bit different.
I now work almost full time. By 6:00 in the evening, the last thing I want to do is think about packing up food for the pool, rather than just scrounging in the fridge to see what’s for dinner. Plus, although the pool is only a 15 minute drive from our house, it could be in Montana for all that I want to get in the car and fight traffic at that time of day.
At one point a couple of years ago I thought maybe the swim team would be our salvation (and make the membership worthwhile.) The swim team forces those who belong to make it to the pool every day, rain or shine, to practice. It also holds meets twice a week, pep rallies, and other fun events to get everyone in the pool mood. But neither of my kids who actually like to swim had any real interest in doing it every day in cold water at the beginning of the season. So after a few weeks of investing in expensive suits and gear, we became swim team drop-outs.
My older son has not been to the pool in 5 years – he has always hated swimming. My younger son is indifferent about the pool. My husband hates doing anything after a long day at work except sit on the couch and read the newspaper. It’s only my daughter who craves being there, to show off her new bikini, and hang out with her friends. But even she was never willing to really dive in and join the swim team.
And me? Well, to say that I would rather stick needles in my eyeballs than don a bathing suit is a bit of an understatement. The reality of pool simply does not match up to its fantasy.
I feel a bit of guilt about all this. Several years ago, a writer in my writing group read a sweet, funny and poignant essay she had written about sitting on the waiting list for her neighborhood pool. She felt damned by the forces that prevented her from doing what she thought would be best for her family – joining the pool. It took over a year, but her family finally reached the top of the magical list, and they’ve been diving off that diving board into the sunset ever since.
So I know that there are people out there who would like to be in my position, and would like to have my pool membership. And yet, despite all my reluctance to get to the pool, I’m not quite ready to throw in my pool towel.
I think that some of my pool aversion has to do with my total inability to be the suburban mom I so wish I could be for my kids’ sake. For so many years, I subverted all my urban instincts and worked to raise my young family in the suburban way. I bought soccer chairs and cheered at my daughter’s and son’s games. I looked for fun parks way out in the ‘burbs to take my young kids to. Instead of traipsing downtown to museums on weekends we would go hiking, or sometimes even biking. I have tried to pack my kids’ schedules like all the other kids around them with enriching after-school activities – ice skating, gymnastics, baseball, flag football – the list goes on. I bought a minivan. And we joined the pool.
But as my kids get older, and they begin to make choices about how they want to spend their time rather than listening to my suggestions (about anything), and my minivan died and I replaced it with a small, cute car that’s not designed to drive a carpool, I feel less compelled to be the primary source of entertainment. I feel drawn back to those things that interest me most – museums, art, theater, ballet, poetry readings – the hub of a thriving urban life. And while I used to think that these interests made me something of an outcast in the land of soccer chairs, I realize today that they are simply my own reality as a kid growing up in a big city, and they are still in my gut. It’s who I am. It’s what I like.
So the clarion call of the pool escapes me. I belong because I think it’s a good thing for my family, and I am glad to take them once in a while, but given the choice, I would much rather make a nice dinner at home and settle in with a good book, or eat out somewhere yummy. I would rather see the latest interesting photography exhibit than seek out yet another nature center. And I would rather head to the city than head to the pool. That’s just how I roll.
So my three trips to the pool so far this summer have been very, very expensive. Perhaps I'll amortize a little more of the membership costs in August, when I can more easily relax at the end of the day. But for now, as we get set to leave town on a family vacation and not even have the potential of being at the pool for yet another week, I am a swimming pool drop-out.
Photo by Olivier Engel via Flicker