Note: my husband felt that he was portrayed as “an uncaring asshole” in this post, which was not at all my intent. MY HUSBAND IS NOT AN UNCARING ASSHOLE.
It started underwater.
He and the other boy, both wearing goggles, were looking at each other underwater. Soon, the other boy was coming toward him along with another, younger boy. There was some parallel swimming. He went underwater, the other 2 boys followed suit.
Their approach made me uneasy, and I shifted forward a bit on the metal bench. Ella shouted “Mommy! Watch!” and I made a big fuss over what was, really, her ability to float with those inflated arm things.
When I turned again I saw my son moving out to the deep end of the pool, outside the safety of the shallow kiddie area.
“He’s going to the deep end!” I shrieked and began to stand. My husband, seated next to me, grabbed my arm.
“Calm down. He’s ok.” I gave him a sideways, what-do-you-know look. “We have to let him test his limits a bit. The fact he is even over there right now is huge. He knows enough to not do anything he can’t handle.”
I gripped the edge of the bench until the wires ground red marks into my fingers. My heart hammered as I watched my boy inch along the edge of the pool, passing each depth marker as he went out over his head. I recognized the tense, fearful grasp he had on the edge of the pool as I used to do this as a child when swimming in our backyard pool.
Both boys went underwater. I knew this game. They were going underwater together, probably looking at each other with their goggles, maybe reaching with their toes to touch the bottom of the pool. I held my breath.
Their heads popped up, my son’s first and then the other boy. They talked for a minute, then I sighed with relief as my son turned away from the boy and began inching back towards the shallow pool.
The other boy grabbed him. He was trying to pull him into the deep water.
“He’s grabbing him!” I hissed, feeling my stomach drop.
“Wait. We have to let him try to handle this on his own,” my husband said calmly. Not agreeing with him, I responded,
“So, worst-case scenario: if he goes under and gets in trouble, you really think the lifeguards are going to see him?” I gestured to the teenagers in lifeguard uniforms as they talked to each other across the pool about what sounded like high school shit.
“We’ll see him. I’ll dive in and get him if I need to.” He was a teenage lifeguard many years ago. “But look, he’s handling it.” He tipped his head toward my son, who was 40 feet away from us, telling the other kid “NO” and clinging to the pool wall. The other kid suddenly let go, and my boy came back to the little pool.
He seemed unscathed, and resumed his swimming practice.
And then, the boy and his friend came back, approaching my son like sharks circling a baby seal. There were maybe 15 kids in the pool total at this point. The boy went underwater and grabbed my son’s leg or foot, I can’t be sure. My son tried to get away from them by swimming/walking to the end of the pool where we were sitting. The boys followed him.
“I think they are just playing,” my husband said, sensing my growing tension. My son was now in front of us, about 6 feet away. He tried to engage the boys in play by offering to show them something, and he went underwater again. When he popped up, they had moved away and when his back was turned they circled back, grabbing his arm. He turned to us and yelled ,
“He keeps trying to get me to go to the deep pool and I don’t want to!” Before I could respond, my husband called out,
“It’s ok. Did you tell them no? I think they just want to play.” The boys ignored us. And then my son was headed back to the deep end.
I turned to Doug. “What the fuck? He is going BACK out there with those shitty kids?” He shrugged, pleased that the way he was handling things was encouraging our highly fearful, unable-to-swim child to suddenly become a risk-taker.
My son stopped short before the entrance to the deep end. He turned and headed back. The boy grabbed him again. My husband quickly stood up. The boys engaged in a tussle. My husband moved over to the bench near that end of the pool. My son was screaming for this kid to stop, and I watched in horrified frustration as 2 adults within 4 feet of the boys ignored them and climbed out of the pool. In a panic, my son grabbed the ladder of the pool and hoisted himself up and out of the water. He did not notice my husband, and re-entered the pool after the boy moved into the deep end on his own.
My son again resumed swimming. And within minutes the boy and his buddy returned. I saw the boy gesture to his buddy, and I knew they were waiting to pounce. When my son, who was not interacting with them and was instead trying to increase his underwater time, turned to push-off from the wall, the boy slipped underwater behind him, and grabbed his leg – pinching him. My son popped up and spun around. He told them loudly to stop. They laughed. My son moved away and tried to carry on swimming.
And then the aggressive splashing began.
You know how when you splash someone in the pool, you can either do it playfully like “ha ha, got you wet,” or you can do it like an asshole, sending a tsunami of water into the face of the unsuspecting victim? The boy and his friend began the playful splashing, and my son did it back to them. Immediately it became a wall of water. My son was outnumbered. He tried to splash back but there was so much water coming at him that he couldn’t breath. He spun around and climbed out of the pool.
At that point I had had enough. Instead of going to the boys directly, which I really really wanted to do, I went to the indifferent lifeguard standing there and pointed out what was going on. I explained that these boys had been harassing my son and that we did not want to embarrass him by intervening but that something needed to be done. The lifeguard went over and I’m not sure what he said but the boys got out of the pool and went over to the lap swim pool.
Where their father was swimming laps.
My son was weeping. The splashing was scary for him – he couldn’t see and couldn’t breath and really didn’t know why they were splashing anyways.
I was furious. Furious with the bully kid. Furious with his father who was not supervising his kids in a frigging public pool. Furious with the lifeguards’ indifference. Furious at my husband’s insistence that we let our son handle this on his own. Furious with myself for going along with it.
I don’t consider myself overprotective. My kids fuck up all the time, and I see it and know it and support the consequences. I know they are not perfect, or the smartest/fastest/greatest at everything.
But I can’t swim, and have had several very bad experiences in the water.
You don’t mess around in the water.
All it takes is one little slip. A second of risk can equal a lifetime of devastation. People get hurt. Kids die. Babies get sick. There is so little we can really control, you know? My husband and I disagree about how to handle situations like this: he is coming from the experienced-swimmer perspective and I am coming from the scared-of the water perspective. I don’t know what the right answer is here, I just know that I will not allow someone’s else’s child to threaten the safety of mine.
On that note, I have added a resolution to my list: 2012 is the year I will learn how to swim.