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A Pool Mom Looks Back

After 15 summers, I am packing away my dented, lime-green Wheelie cooler, retiring my canvas L.L. Bean towel tote, and literally hanging up my khaki “Pool Mom” baseball hat.

I am a pool mom no more.

You can’t be a pool mom without children to take to the pool. My son, 20, and in college, hasn’t been to the pool in years. My daughter, 16, now loves horses, and would rather canter around a dusty rink than backstroke up and down the pool. Unlike the serious swimmers and mah-jonggers, I would never show up without them.

So now all I can do is reminisce about the magic summer once held for us. Every morning, we would wake up early, put on our swimsuits, pack our lunches, towels, and pool toys, and slather on palms full of Coppertone. We had to leave before 11, because we couldn’t be late for swim lessons, which were the main reason we joined the pool. Year after year, dedicated teenage lifeguards taught my children how to tread water, float, breaststroke, butterfly, dive, flip turn, and ultimately graduate from Level 6 of the Red Cross swimming program.

They were delighted the first time a lifeguard accompanied them down the “big slide” into eight feet of water; a little scared about the first leap off the diving board; and, at the end of each season, thrilled with their “Super Swimmer” trophies. And I took comfort in knowing they would be safe around water.

After lessons and lunch, the kids had free run of the swim club’s lush property-its lawns, trees, and sandboxes. They enjoyed endless hours of stickball, wall ball, basketball, and baseball. They challenged each other to chess, checkers, and Pokemon trading on each other’s blankets.

There were special days at the pool, too: Family Fun Day and Pet Day, when your pet could compete in categories such as “best groomed” and “most talented.” Friday nights meant sleeping bags on the tennis court and a not-so-newly-released movie after dark. It came with an obligatory scolding from Jay, the pool owner, for talking during the show.

While the children developed fast friendships, the moms gravitated toward each other, too. At first it was a polite hello and chitchat at the baby pool among four of us. Then it developed into eight of us renting a table together and convening daily.

Our talks ran the gamut from recipes and television shows to family problems and world politics. Salty snacks, big salads, and Diet Coke flowed freely. We encouraged each other through the challenges of stay-at-home mothers (strep throat, split chins, adolescence) and comforted each other in difficult times (illnesses, job losses, deaths of parents).

The pool moms kept in contact throughout the rest of the year as well. Our favorite get-together was the annual pool moms’ Christmas party, which entailed dinner at a fancy restaurant and the honoring/roasting of the “Pool Mom of the Year.”

As the children grew older, the pool took on even more significance. While their emotions and bodies were in upheaval and the world was becoming more unpredictable, he pool was a constant. Memorial Day after Memorial Day, everything was the way we left it on Labor Day. It was comforting to know there was a place where you were safe and free to grow, and where all the children, though maybe an inch or two taller, would return to play.

I guess the same could be said of the pool moms. We supported each other during one of the most crucial times in a mother’s life, rearing our toddlers into teenagers. We watched as each young adult decided the pool wasn’t for him or her anymore. And as the youngsters left, one by one, the moms broke away, too.

So as I sit in my air-conditioned office on a 97-degree day, I take heart that the cycle is continuing: Small children are squealing with joy and cannonballing into the deep end, moms are warning them to reapply sunscreen, and lifeguards are shouting, “No running.” And most of them probably don’t know how special this part of their life is.

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Phone: 215-543-9339