Dear Lifeguards and Swim Teachers at Max’s Preschool,
Yes, this is another one of those imaginary letters written as a way of letting go of my fears. No, I am not really going to share this with Max’s swim teachers. I’d much rather spread my neuroses across the Internet.
My son Max is going to be in your pool once a week, having swim lessons with the other children in his camp class. He is three years old. He is three. Three years old. And because you are probably twenty-something, if not TEEN something, I feel the desperate need to share some very important facts with you.
Three year olds don’t listen. They don’t. They don’t listen to whistles, to commands, to the “clap your hands if your listening ears are on” game, or the very popular “hand goes up mouth goes shut” philosophy. Three year olds also don’t sit still. Ever. I was a little hurt when Max’s preschool teacher told me that “He needs to work on sitting still and paying attention during circle time”. Until I talked to four other mothers, who she had apparently said the exact same thing to. Three year olds can’t really be counted on to do anything. Anything, except for exactly what you don’t want them to do. They’ll always do that.
Which means, dear Abercrombie model in your new bathing suit that you paid for with your babysitting money, I really really really need you to pay very close attention every time a group of three year olds, or a group of ANY age, comes into your pool. I know. I know that you know this already. You take your job very seriously. You work for one of the most elite pools in the area, and you have taught swim lessons for
three many summers. I know the trainings you’ve had, because I’ve been in them too. I know how much you love kids, because I know that our own Magnificent Michelle got her start teaching swim lessons and lifeguarding. And I trust Magnificent Michelle to do absolutely everything with Max, most of which she does better than I do. Much better. But you are not Michelle. I don’t know you. You haven’t spent the last year becoming part of our family and blending seamlessly into our routine. I trust you in the way that all moms trust new teachers, which is to say that I hope to grow to trust you. I do. I just need to be really sure that you know about my son Max. He has sandy blonde hair and red cheeks. He’s going to be wearing swim trunks with sharks on them. He’s three. He’s not going to sit on the step. He’s going to want to jump in the water because that’s what he does with Daddy. Except when he’s with Daddy, he’s got a set of eyes and a set of hands that are only responsible for him. Daddy isn’t responsible for five other kids. Daddy isn’t hungover from hanging out at the beach the night before with his highschool buddies who are all home from college for the summer. Daddy isn’t checking out the lifeguard across the pool because she is wearing a super awesome swimsuit and holy shit she’s hot. OK, he might be. He better not be. My point is that I know that there’s a lot running through your mind. I’ve been there.
I was a camp counselor for five amazing summers. I took 30 six year olds to the pool every day, and deposited them in front of lifeguards and swim teachers. The same lifeguards and swim teachers that I went to happy hour with the night before. The same ones that I sang karaoke with. The same ones that I stayed out until 3 am with, went to concerts with, and drove too fast with. Those were amazing endless summers. We worked hard, we played hard, and we loved our “kids” with every ounce we had. I can still remember some of their names, and all of the words to every camp song. But I also remember how young I was. And how I paid close attention in our training sessions, but didn’t really understand how HEAVY my responsibility was. Until you have children, you tend to think that everything will be fine. It will be fine because life is good, and bad things only happen to other people, and you are young and confident and so on it. Until you’re not.
But if Max, or any of the other children, slips quietly off the step and into the water, you better be watching. You better be paying very close attention. It takes 2 seconds. Two seconds to change everything. Two seconds to steal from me the very thing that keeps me alive. The two seconds where you look across the pool to mouth “text me” to your girlfriend, the two seconds when your mind wanders to how funny it was that your buddy made a bong out of an apple last night (don’t ask how I know that)…those two seconds may not mean much to you, but they mean EVERYTHING to me.
Max’s very amazing preschool teachers will be watching tomorrow. But they will have a lot of children to keep track of. YOU will have 4, maybe 6. I’m counting on you. I’m pleading with you. I’m a little crazy, and I know it, but I need you to pay attention. And I also need you to not force any heads under water if they’re not ready, and to speak with kindness, and to remember that all children learn differently, and to make swim FUN. But first, please, make swim safe.
It takes two seconds to look away and change everything. Three year olds are slippery. Three year olds will make your day, love on you forever, and make you laugh when they blow water out of their nose. Three year olds will remember your name, beg you to “catch me! one more time!” and give you wet hugs around your neck. You owe them those two seconds.
p.s Mom, this was not meant to give you an anxiety attack tonight. Max will be fine tomorrow, I promise. Just had to get this off my chest.