Monday, August 15, 2011

Where's Your Mommy?

The wee ones and I went to the pool today. It was the first time I've ever navigated the pool alone. With two small children who are both active and like doing different things in the pools, I'm generally just not comfortable without one adult per child as my ratio. While both wee ones know how to swim - and Mister Man has demonstrated his prowess by swimming twenty-five meters without touching the bottom - that doesn't mean that I'm comfortable with them much more out of arm's reach.

Granted, this is just me. I'm paranoid. I know this, and I'm ok with it. I read about kids who know how to swim still drowning. I know the story behind the two year old boy at Mister Man's school who is still in a coma after a Memorial Day pool accident. It's just the way I am. I have my rules, and they work for me - and fortunately the wee ones respect them. That's why we tested the only one adult theory. It worked wonderfully, I'm happy to report.

Not all parents go with this same theory, and I'm fine with that. For the most part. There are parents who watch from the edge of the pool rather than in it. There are parents who let the lifeguards monitor their six and seven year olds while they sit in their lounge chairs and read. While that's not what I'm comfortable with for my children, I don't judge. Generally.

Today was an exception. Twice.

A boy who couldn't be more than three or four was tiptoeing near where the wee ones were jumping into the pool from the edge and then climbing back out. The water was only three and a half feet, but I could see that the boy was on his tip-toes, holding his head back to avoid the water getting in his nose and eyes. There was no parent in site. As I looked on, giving him a wary eye and noting no adult in site, the lifeguard helped him to shallower water where he could safely stand and asked that he be sure to stay in the shallow area. Hello? Parent? Guardian? Nanny? Babysitter? Anyone? I was glad that it was a relatively cool day and the pool wasn't very crowded.

Less than a half hour later, I heard an announcement on the loudspeaker, "Will the mom of Tommy who is wearing the yellow SpongeBob swimsuit please report to the guard shack." I looked over, and I could see a little boy, maybe five but probably not (nope, not the same kid, fortunately) holding the hand of one of the lifeguards just looking forlornly towards the pool, doing his best to fight off tears. I looked around, curious to see whose child he was - as he'd obviously gotten lost and couldn't find his mom. Five minutes later, the message was repeated. No mom appeared.

Another five minutes later, the volume on the loudspeaker was turned up, and the message altered. "Will Kelly the mother of little Tommy wearing the yellow SpongeBob Squarepants swim trunks please report to the guard shack. Please." Interestingly, there was still nothing.

Really? You haven't seen your four or five year old son in, what, at least twenty minutes at this point - that's being generous and figuring he sought out a lifeguard to help find his missing mom ten minutes after he last saw her, and in all honesty, I figure he was probably happily playing for longer than that - and you aren't searching frantically for him? You aren't walking around the pool, worry hastening your footsteps as you begin to fear the worst, knowing it's been too long since you last saw your child? You aren't running to the lifeguard shack yourself begging them to help you find your missing child? You aren't alert enough to recognize your child's name, description and oh, I don't know, your own name to come sprinting to reassure your child that everything is ok?

The announcement for Kelly to please come claim poor Tommy was made a fourth time. A few minutes later, I saw a woman bending over him, dragging him back to the chair she must have finally vacated. I won't give you any stereotypes as to what she looked at, because in my mind, ignoring your child and relinquishing your parental responsibilities isn't subject to a single stereotype. She didn't appear worried to me, however. She looked angry with him, and she was dragging him by the arm, as though he'd done something wrong and embarrassed her. I turned away in disgust at this point because I realized that I'd begun judging her. I wasn't ok with her parenting choices. In my mind they'd gone too far from my own and could so easily have left her child in a dangerous situation.

And so the wee ones and I finished up our pool playdate. I hung out with them in the pool, helping them in their follow the leader game, cheering them on as they went down the slides, and monitoring them as they played in the waterfalls, jumping in and out of the pool. I recognized that it was my choice, and I was grateful for the lifeguards who are so astute so that parents can monitor at their own comfort level, which isn't mine.

And I began to reflect that at some point, I will need to back off. I will need to let them play in the pool without me standing over them, ready to grab them if they show any signs of distress. Someday I'll be bringing my book and reading in a chair, though glancing up at the end of every page to mark the wee ones visually in the pool. Not yet, but someday. But I promise that when I do, I will make sure the wee ones know where I am, and I will be listening to any and all announcements on the loudspeaker.

At what age did you give your children independence in the pool? Or when are you planning to?

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Melisa with one S August 15, 2011 at 9:12 PM  

Uh yeah. "Backing off" in terms of how you plan to "back off" some day is not anything like what that woman was doing. I can't stand people who are oblivious to their young kids, leaving others to worry about them. In that specific situation, there's no excuse. They had to page her four times???? Ugh.

We haven't had easy access to pools on a regular basis over the years, but I think I allowed my boys to swim in another area of the pool from where I was at starting around 8 or 9, and that was after several years of swim lessons, AND I still kept an eye on them from where I was.

Raevyn August 15, 2011 at 9:49 PM  

Well, I have no kids, and unless I marry a man with some, I never will, so I am not in a place to judge someone's parenting choices, however I cannot imagine having to be called even ONCE over the loudspeaker, and certainly not 4 times. Frankly, in the lifeguard's position, after the 3rd time, I think I would have been calling the police and/or child protective services. But then, as a friend of mine says, "parent is a VERB". I don't know why some people have children, since they appear to consider them a burden, rather than the gift that they are.

Lisa Noel August 15, 2011 at 10:01 PM  

I"ve backed off with the older ones, in the shallow pool. In that I am ok not being in arms reach. This helps as I am regularly in an 1:3 ration and still feel the need to be right with the lil one. But I still do a visual check every 30 seconds probably. I try to envision a situation where I could let something like that happening. Like one of the children gtting sick suddenly, but I would catch vomit in my own shirt to buy myself enough time to collect my other kids from a pool (or anywhere) before retreating to the bathroom.
but there are parents in our area that let 2 and 3 year olds essentially roam the streets until dark. It is insane.

I think it's important to back off and let kids gain confidence but I don't think that means they fend for themselves, just that you give them the chance to try while you watch a ways off, ready to be there if they need you.
At our pool the rule is a parent has to be in the immediate area for any kids under 7. I think I was probably around that age when I road my bike to the same public pool years ago. But times have changed. AND I young man died in that pool years ago and no one noticed for awhile

Busy Mom August 15, 2011 at 10:36 PM  

My daughter is a life guard, don't even start me on stuff like this from their perspective!

If I'm at the pool with my kids, I don't think there's a time when I do know where they are, no matter their age.

That's different from independence, you always have to know where they are.

There's not a magic age that marks when you can sit down and read for a few minutes, it just happens and you'll know when it's right.

Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog August 15, 2011 at 10:40 PM  

Well, my eldest is 12 and I still like to keep a visual on him. That said, if he is with a trusted friend at a water park situation, he is allowed to go off for certain amounts of time and check back in. I also let my 9 year old have freedom similar, but a little tighter than Justin's. Corinne, however, is always in my eyesight and usually within jumping distance. (IE, I may be on the side of the pool, but she is within my leaping range)

That situation was just too much. Glad the little boy was ok, though.

Heather E August 16, 2011 at 6:05 AM  

I don't have kids but I can tell you that having to page that child's mom FOUR TIMES is absurd to me. I was allowed to "go" to the pool at like 10 with my best friend alone. Then again, we had a pool in our backyard so going to the community pool was a "treat". I swam from sun up to sun down, as young as 5 or 6 and I don't really remember my mom being directly IN the pool but she was always within "jumping in" distance.

Gina August 16, 2011 at 8:08 AM  

I've backed off with the 14 year old, but I STILL find myself searching for him every few minutes - I can't imagine not. With the 7 year old, I am on her. I will occasionally let her in the water without me, but I am right there - always looking.

Sadly - the parents like that woman often end up mad at the kid, rather than worried or relieved. Last year, I ended up with a lost kid tagging along behind me (special needs no less - he was almost completely non-verbal) at a parade. I walked him around to try and find his mom and when we did, she grabbed his arm & yanked him, yelling at him the whole time. No worry, no thanks, nothing. Meanwhile, I had spotted her earlier in the evening talking on her cell and completely ignoring her kids as they ran around near the street(I didn't see him then).

Tara R. August 16, 2011 at 12:54 PM  

It would have been difficult for me to not judge that mom. It dumbfounds me how absent some parents can be when in public, like once there are other adults around their duty as parents is abdicated. Stunned.

Don't ever worry about how you parent. I can see you as an engaged mom, not a hovering one.

Pat August 16, 2011 at 7:36 PM  

That is shocking to me, especially the fact that the lifeguard had to call the mom over the loudspeaker 4 times.

We put in a pool when my boys were 5, 7 and 9, and they were all pretty good swimmers by then, but one of us would always be out by the pool with them until they got quite a bit older. One time when we were visiting my parents, their neighbors invited me and the boys over to swim in their pool. My youngest, 3 1/2 at the time, got up on the diving board, jumped into the deep end and swam (dog-paddled) to the shallow end. That's when I knew all my kids were pool-safe, though I still watched them at pools. Tim, my youngest has always been Mr. Fearless about trying something new.

Michelle August 16, 2011 at 11:00 PM  

Melisa - Thanks for the support! Sometimes I feel like I'm a little overprotective when I look around.

Raevyn - I agree with so much of that, but I'm going to try not to say anything mean.

Lisa - I'm lucky that with my husband, I can have 1:1 ratio much of the time or that my parents will happily provide us with that ratio, too - especially in a crowded pool where it's so easy to not pay attention to one child.

BusyMom - Oh amen! I feel so badly for them. And when the camp kids come, ha! I counted over 200 one day coming to the pool, and it was an 8:1 or so ratio of kids to counselors. We left shortly after that ;)

Tracey - I am SO glad things turned out ok for this boy (though I have since found out that his mom left the pool area and was in her car during this).

Heather - I think it's really different when it's a private pool with a couple kids (and an adult in the area) v a community pool that has tons of kids and little supervision by so many parents. So much potential for something to happen and no one to notice.

Gina - I have a feeling I'll still always be that mom keeping an eye out. And YES she was mad at the kid, which I so don't get.

Tara - I think that's a lot of what it is. They see the lifeguards and so figure they can just ... do their own thing. It scares me sometimes.

Pat - Oh, I don't worry about the wee ones' ability to swim. They can do that. It's the other kids who are jumping into the pool without looking or clowning around or just flat out being mean or stupid. How easy for something to happen and no one to notice in a crowded pool....

Anonymous August 17, 2011 at 9:06 AM  

Four times?? That's crazy! And he's so little. I remember having fun with mom in our local pool when we were kids. I thought she was just having fun with us. I guess she was watching over us.

You mom's are pretty slick! Your style is the one I grew up with & I love it! :)

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