When I was very young I remember going to Forest Park to swim. I remember having some sort of orange colored ID badge and walking to the park with other neighborhood kids. Shortly after that summer my father purchased a very large, used, above ground pool. My father built a deck at one end of the pool…and with that my public pool experiences came to an end.
After putting in the pool and building the deck “the mountain came to Mohammed” as it were as after that my friends and neighbors came over to my house to swim. For me it meant having control over who was invited and who wasn’t, with whom I interacted, and with whom I didn’t. It is, perhaps, the one element of my life that is similar to the experience of most suburban kids today in the sense that a lot of my behavior with my friends was monitored by my parents, and controlled, though I would have to say much more casually than young people experience now.
Today, my step-daughter loves to swim, but if we had a pool of any reasonable size we couldn’t have a garden or much of anything else in our backyard. For that reason LuLu swims at 5 Mile Pond. She is still too young for us to feel comfortable sending her up Boston Road on a bus so we drive the (not coincidental) 5 miles to the public beach there. At first LuLu was obsessed with having me swim with her. I don’t mind swimming for a little while, but at 51 years of age, I have to admit that most of my playfulness has long since dissipated. The first few times we went to the beach, after I got tired of being in the water, LuLu would just stand, staring at me despondently, while I encouraged her to find some kids her own age to play with.
At first she couldn’t imagine what it was I was asking her to do without the mediation of a parent. If you’re my age you’ll know what I was asking her to do: parents would drag you someplace and then desert you to go behave like adults (instead of activities directors for their children) and you would have to find enough young people with similar interests to start engaging in activities which you would create and find interesting. She started to try it. She eventually got very good at it.
After a handful of visits LuLu was so expert at making friends and finding things to do that I started to time how many minutes it would take her to “isolate her prey and go in for the kill”. Anytime playmates leave she recruits replacements immediately. They do stupid stuff; handstand contests, Marco Polo, shell collecting. And they have a great time. Without me, thank goodness. It hardly compensates for all the time she and her contemporaries spend being monitored by the Parental Union Nanny State, but it’s a start, and it makes me grateful to not have a pool.