It was a hot summer day here in Boulder, Colorado. The sunscreen was flowing, the grown-ups were sweating and pools everywhere were filled with children and parents enjoying summer vacation. My friend Jen invited us to join her and several other mommy friends and their varying numbers of offspring at her neighborhood pool. Lauren was seven and swimming independently, Kate was five and swimming underwater quite well—as long as she could either stand to come up for air or if there was an adult nearby who she could use as island. Fear as a life—preserving instinct was not present. Cooper, was still a cloth diaper-wearing two-year old, with very blond hair and a big belly poking out from under his sun shirt.
The number of children, ranging in ages from birth to seven years, made for a noisy, chaotic event. The air was punctuated by screams of glee as the children splashed with their friends and occasionally frustration when they were pulled from the pool to have sunscreen re-applied. There were so many friends and acquaintances I hadn’t seen in ages–some since even before Cooper had been born. There was catching up to be done, parenting notes to compare and the rare and glorious opportunity to engage in conversation with another adult. It was, however, hard to concentrate on both keeping track of my litter around the pool while trying to pay attention to what an adult friend was saying. I would listen, making what I hoped were appropriately-timed murmurs of interest, but the whole time my eyes were scanning the pool for my children. Several times I’d have to stop someone mid-sentence to look for my two younger children whom I would eventually find on a swing or in the sandbox. My oldest daughter never left the pool.
It couldn’t have been more than an hour before the amount of stress I was experiencing began to outweigh the fun of being at a pool with too many friends and their children. I couldn’t visit, I couldn’t relax and I certainly couldn’t keep track of my children who were going in three different directions. I worried Kate or Cooper would fall in while I wasn’t looking and both of them hated wearing floatation devices despite my best attempts. My breaking point occurred when I saw Kate, sans floaties, heading towards the deep end of the pool. Being over-stimulated by the level of excitement, prone to selective hearing, and more confident in her swimming abilities than she should have been, she jumped right in. I ran over and pulled my daughter out of the water who, despite potentially drowning, was annoyed rather than being appreciative, that she had been saved. I had had enough. I grabbed my blond baby, pulled Kate by the arm and barked at Lauren to come get changed into her clothes. I rushed around for several minutes, snapping orders at the girls and searching for the diaper bag so I could put a dry diaper on Cooper, who was perched on my hip.
Imagine my surprise when I laid Cooper on a lounge chair to change him out of his wet suit…only to discover I had grabbed the wrong blond toddler. I found myself staring into the face of an equally surprised two-year old, the daughter of my friend Jen. So where was Cooper?? I scanned the pool and found him sitting on the first step, not wearing the despised float suit he must have somehow pulled off himself. He was looking dangerously close to toppling head first into the deeper water of the shallow end. I could see the other moms, some of whom I didn’t know well, looking at him and each other like “Who does he belong to and where is his mother?” I have no doubt they would have pulled him out had he fallen in, but that didn’t make me feel much better about what felt like a Parenting Failure of Epic Proportions.
Needless to say, we left the pool. I was trying to “play it cool” and “laugh it off” but I was shaking inside. It wasn’t until Kate and Lauren were both fully swimming on their own that I ever took all three children to a pool by myself again.
When have your felt “over your head” as a parent?