“Please come over and swim in our pool,” our friends asked us. “Our children are so bored, they really need a playdate.” We did not need to be asked twice, and we went over that afternoon. I watched the baby, naked, in the floaty, content to putter around and watch everyone. I watched the eight-year old dive a swim, a veritable fish she was. I watched the middle child lay out on a towel because he didn’t want to swim. My children, fresh off successful swimming lessons, went straight in to practice their new skills, show them off to Daddy, or play on the floaties. What was I to do? I did one thing I know well to do, and one thing I don’t.
First, the eldest got a ball and asked me to play with her. It’s a simple thing, really, tossing a ball around in a pool, and it’s fun. It was also the last thing I would have thought of doing. My problem is that in the pool, as in most other social settings, I don’t know how to play. I know how to stay on the side and chat with my friends (at the pool, at the park,) and I know how to supervise/help/teach the children nearby (that’s my go-to behaviour in a large group. People think I’m just being a really good -or oppressive- mother, but the reality is I do it to avoid social situations in which I am not comfortable.)
Much of the time I spent in the pool, especially in the first hours, was helping Boy Blue. He wasn’t quite able to touch the bottom in the shallow end, and wasn’t going to just monkey crawl around the edge of the pool. For me, that was fun. It allowed me to be in the water, in the middle of everything, doing the only thing I knew how to do: teach a child.
I’m not this way only because I have young children and have had to do this out of necessity for the past half dozen years. I’m this way because I have been all my life.
So which came first? Was I first socially unsure so I sought out the one thing I knew? Or did being with the children become my safe place because it was the one in which I was thurst so very young? I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer to that one. In the end it doesn’t matter, so long as I recognize it, and don’t allow it to be my crutch. My children are getting older and I want them to know how to play, not just how to do tasks.
Last week at our friend’s home, I ultimately spent the time teaching the middle child some basics of swimming. Boy Blue had coaxed him into monkey crawling around the pool, and once he realized how easy that was, he wanted to do some of the other things he saw Boy Blue doing. According to his parents he is now “a different child.”
My boys had such a great time playing in the pool with their friends and I felt so good with the success I’d had with the middle child that it took all my good manners to wait until Sunday evening before sending them a note and asking when we could next swim at their pool.
We’ll be there this afternoon. I will spend most of my time with the four-year olds because they will need my help. But I hope I also spend some time with the eight-year old because I need her help. I need to learn how to play.
ps: today is free slurpee day at 7eleven stores! I may not now how to play, but I do know that a free slurpee on a summer day = fun.