1 a (1) : a small and rather deep body of usually fresh water (2) : a quiet place in a stream (3) : a body of water forming above a dam
4 : swimming pool: a pool suitable for swimming
What images does the word pool conjure for you? A calm, quiet area in a river bed complete with slick rocks nearby for lounging? Ice blue, crisp, cold water surrounded by concrete, folding chairs and tanning bodies reclining with the latest novel? An oasis, almost mirage-like in its difference from its hot, urbanized surroundings?
My thoughts on and experiences of pools are remarkably complicated. Nearly daily, my daughters bemoan our lack of a neighborhood pool, a YMCA membership or a backyard pool. I've tried buying an inflatable pool for them to use to at least cool off - nope, not doing it for them. I've tried to explain the reasons we don't have these things they want (we live in the city, not the suburbs - there are no neighborhood pools!). I've tried to engage them in other ways - we've do a Fun Jar every summer for the past seven years, for goodness' sake! But what they want is more pool time. And I am incredibly ambivalent about this.
I don't want to spend three or four days each week at the pool. I have friends who do this - and they're great people. I even considered buying a summer Y membership, but decided against it, partly due to sending every spare dime to the kitchen renovation budget, partly because I'm just not sure how I would handle it.
"Handle it?" You might be thinking. What's to be handled about laying in the sun, reading poolside or lounging in some cool clean water? The problem with that line of thought is that it is rational. And my thoughts on and feelings about pools aren't entirely rational. I get nervous at the thought of having a Y membership that needs to be used. Would I have to talk to the people in the chairs near ours? Would the other children play with my daughters? Are my daughters' swimming skills too far behind their peers? Would they be ridiculed? What if I don't know anyone? Even worse, what if I do know some of the people? This isn't so much about body image as a fear of/desire for community. Because pools inevitably seem to conjure inclusion and exclusion for me.
If you have a membership or live in the right place, you're in. Otherwise, you're not. Even once I'm physically at the pool, I still feel out of place. Yesterday the girls and I went swimming at my brother-in-law's neighborhood pool. No one looked askance at us or visibly seemed to wonder what we were doing there. But the camaraderie between most of the people there was evident. They were neighbors, after all. And they clearly spent a lot of time at the pool. As I listened to them, I pondered whether I would want a neighborhood pool as a meeting spot. But it's crazy to even try to imagine that. Who would go there? Only three people on my street have kids, so it wouldn't be full of families. Maybe I'd meet some hung-over wannabe musicians, a recent college grad or two, the odd man who lives across the street but whom we only see when he opens his gate to enter or exit. Nah, he'd never show up, even if we had a pool.
What about the neighborhood Y? It's not an intimidating place. It's filled with middle of the road people who live around here, like me. But my fear is that they would all know each other and I'd sit there counting the minutes until I could tell my daughters it was time to go. Crazy? Perhaps. OK, probably. And the craziest part of it is that my own childhood summers were spent largely at the pool. I swam nearly every day. And loved every minute of it. But I have this fear that if I let my daughters spend their days that way, they will morph into empty-headed bimbos who live for pool time and have no idea how to entertain themselves and engage their brains when the scent of chlorine isn't nearby. As a good friend pointed out, this is a pretty silly fear since I spent countless hours at the pool growing up and I wouldn't describe myself this way. Again, rational thoughts just don't seem to help me when it comes to my feelings on the pool.
A part of me is also sad and hurt that the summer experience I provide for my girls isn't enough for them. Instead of trips to the museum, visiting parks all around town, walking through the botanical gardens or picking berries, they want to be at the pool. They want what I don't want, what I'm afraid of. I guess I should be thankful that they don't share my fear, my anxiety, my insecurity. So I'm trying to work out why I feel such a bizarre mix of emotions over a little thing like the pool. And in the meantime? We're joining a friend at her neighborhood pool on Thursday. My daughters will be thrilled. Your prayers for me are welcomed.