Gather round, kids! Story time.
Dar and his brother and I have been going to the designated Family Swim hour at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA. I love that they’re at this age where they can stand on the bottom of the Shallow Pool but they’re also not so big that they’re intimidating…or so I thought.
I’ve been teaching R to swim, and he’s getting good. He can reliably make it almost one lap. I don’t love that he insists on wearing a mask, but…at a certain point I decided that I may as well also wear my mask. It helps me see when his feet do and don’t touch the bottom. Wearing the mask made me realize that when Dar goes underwater, his eyes stay wide open. Maybe that’s because he’s anticipating more tickles. Whatever the reason, when he’s underwater in a pool with his eyes wide open and his mouth in a big toothy grin…that’s become my favorite view of him. I expect to flash on that image of him when on my deathbed. Certainly I hope that I think of that image, and not the rest of this story.
Dar is a total water baby. He LOVES the Shallow Pool. In, out, underwater, overwater, laughing, always having a great time, never making any of his screams that scare strangers. He wouldn’t and doesn’t hurt anyone. That said, he does sometimes splash people as a “hi.”
On the day in question, a little girl approaches me. I don’t even hear her.
“She wants to tell you something,” her mom says.
“What’s up?” I say nicely.
“He splashed me,” says the 4-year-old girl.
“Ah,” I say. “Sometimes a kid will splash just to say hi.”
The mom nods at me and at her. She seems happy of the lesson imparted.
Later, the same mom hears me call Darwin’s name and tells me she loves it. She says that if her daughter had been a son, she was going to name him/her that. I say it’s a bit ironic, because Dar is mentally challenged.
Still later, friendly mom swims up to me unprompted and says “you’re doing an amazing job with these two. Really.” I say “I really appreciate that” and swim to one of them. A moment later I feel bad that I didn’t sound as sincere as I might have. I do really appreciate that.
It’s also true that keeping up with them both is a challenge, especially considering R’s swimming lessons and Dar often trying to get out of the pool. (The problem isn’t the getting out, it’s the subsequent running around the pool perimeter. I can’t go for that [no can do].)
Still later, Dar is wading and submerging in the corner furthest from the steps. I figure I can focus on R for a minute. And I do.
A lifeguard says to me, “Excuse me? Can you come over here?”
Uh oh. What has Dar done now? He would never hurt anyone would he?
The lifeguard: “That’s your son?” It’s obvious who she means.
“Someone just hit him. I need to file a report.”
“Uh…hang on. Is he hurt?” I say this even as I go to Dar to check on him. He seems fine, as buoyant as ever. I don’t see any marks. I ask, “Was he bleeding or anything?”
“Not as far as I can see,” says the lifeguard. “But I need your name, yours and his.”
I hesitate. Who hit him? I think.
An old woman comes over accompanied by someone who is maybe 30. The 30-year-old says to me, “I’m so sorry. She did it.” Meaning the old lady.
Who declares: “He shouldn’t be here.”
I arch my eyebrow; she interprets this as me not having heard her.
“He shouldn’t be here,” she repeats, loud enough to make other parents stop and listen. This time I give her the deeply furrowed brow.
“He’s hurting people!” she now says. I could choose to be mad at this retiree, but meh. She seems unbalanced in more ways than one.
The old woman is leaning on the 30-year-old, who rushes to say, “No, he isn’t. He didn’t. He splashed her, and she hit him. He was very close, I think he surprised her, and she hit him.”
“Thanks for telling me,” I said. “I understand and I’m sorry.”
“Can I have your name and his name?” asks the lifeguard again.
“Look,” I say, “What if I said to forget the whole thing? It’s really no big deal.”
“The thing is,” says the lifeguard, “I saw it. So I have to report it.”
I realize Dar is the “victim” here, but I really want to take the high road here. Why? Maybe because we have to leave anyway, maybe because R is watching, mostly because we can take the high road in this case. I don’t like being a victim as much as this blog seems to suggest I do (because I choose not to write about our more boring days).
The lifeguard has consulted with another lifeguard. She now has a pen and paper. I look at the 30-year-old. I can’t say for a fact, but she looks like a brown person taking care of a crazy old white person. I know a lot of such people, and I deeply empathize.
I ask the lifeguard, “After I give you my name and his name, are we done? Anything else?”
“Are you members?”
“We’re in your system, yes.”
“Then no, there won’t be anything else.” I think, you know, it isfamily time. This lady’s not expecting random kids to splash her?
Granted, Dar is 9. When he’s 15 and still behaving this way (as he will be), this will be a different conversation.
I give the lifeguard the names and pivot to the caregiver with the cantankerous lady on her arm. I say, “I’m not going to follow up on this.”
“If you did,” she says, “I know her husband wouldn’t mind.” That was an odd thing to say.
“I don’t want to know your name or her name,” I say. “It’s fine, really.”
“Thank you.” She seems to be waiting for the lifeguard, who seems to be waiting for me.
“I feel bad for you.” I tell the caregiver sincerely. “I know what it’s like to be taking care of someone…who doesn’t always see what’s going on.”
“Right. Thank you,” she says again.
I find Dar again. As usual he’s been splashing around without incident. I tell him my favorite Weird Al song, “one more minute.”
“What was all that?” asks R.
“I’ll tell you later,” I say as I gather up his pool toys.
The earlier Mom approaches me with a look like she saw the whole thing. “You are doing such a tremendous job.”
This time I profusely thank her.