Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Step by Step

Nearly every day, I'm at the pool with Julia and Genevieve. This allows me near constant opportunity to think about how much my life has changed in the past few years. In some ways, the pool is a metaphor for parenting--the way the stages of childhood (and parenthood) rise up, swirl around and engulf you, and then retreat as you and your child progress to the next stage, which has reared up and will consume you for a time, and which then will disappear, and on...and on.

Every day I pass the baby pool as I walk over to the main pool. I pass the younger moms with the babies and toddlers. I don't know any of them anymore; they're a new crop to me. But the lovely, gentle baby pool used to be the thriving center of my time at the city pool, too.

At the edge of the big pool I tiptoe into the zero-entry, fountain-festooned, shallow area, which stretches far and wide and is studded with two large concrete, sun-umbrella-shaded islands at calf-height. Even up to last year, I spent all my time in this section of the pool with my collection of mom friends. At first, we were all in the water with our kiddos, holding them under their arms and swirling them through the water or catching them as they jumped off the edge; later we progressed to sitting under the umbrella with our legs swinging in the water as our preschoolers and kindergartners splashed to and fro and pretended they could actually swim.

This year I've crossed the line. Half the time or more, I'm sitting beyond the shallow-end rope, on the edge of the middle section, where the water flirts with my daughters' chins and lips when they stand on tiptoe. They jump off the edge over and over, or swim with their goggled faces in the water. And last week, they began jumping off the diving board in the farthest, deepest end of the pool; just jumping off and swimming (Julia) or dog-paddling (Genevieve) to the edge, which is nearby. But still.

This topic has come up time and time again among my circle of mom friends this summer: the notion of traversing the stages of pool-parenting. "We're gradually shifting out," a friend noted the other week. "A few years ago, it was US at the baby pool; then we moved to the shallow. Now we're out deeper, and one day we'll be on the poolside lounge chairs, with our kids in the water by themselves." We all know it means something. We know it's a metaphor for motherhood.

And what really strikes me, this year, is how the stages of pool-parent life illustrate the shifts in my mothering life in general--how, now that my daughters are almost-six and newly-eight, they are so much more self-sufficient, and thus my daily life is dramatically less physically exhausting. It's a bit of a revelation, actually. Any sane adult realizes that kids grow and certain things about parenting them become far easier with time. But it's still a bit startling when it happens to you. It's like you never truly believed you'd get snatches of your life back, to yourself--that you'd actually get to attend to your own needs during the day on occasion, and live to tell the tale. But now here the kids are, and they're no longer splashing in the baby pool between nursing sessions or naptimes. They're no longer in need of water toys and extra snacks and Orajel. You're not finishing up a session at the pool only to stare down diaper changes and toddler tantrums and the fact that they're not old enough to be out of your sight for even five minutes at a time yet unless they're contained in a crib.

It gets easier. And then, no doubt, harder again. But then hopefully, eventually, easier--until everyone's leaping off the diving board and chilling on lounge chairs. But long before then, you'll stroll past the baby pool and feel a little pang of longing. That was your entire life for awhile, after all, way back when. And part of you will always, always miss it.

1 comment:

Rita said...

I looooved this post, Shan. Pool-as-metaphor-for-motherhood. So good.