It was during a recent trip to the pool that I came to a stark realization: I’m getting too old for the kiddie pool.
Not that I’m too old for the tiny pool that sits adjacent to the waterslide and lazy river at the University of Alabama’s Recreation Center. But that my older children are, and their friends are, which means that my friends - who are mostly mothers of school-age children - are no longer sitting by the kiddie pool either.
It’s like most of my “mom” friends have graduated to the adult table and I’m still stuck with the little kids during Thanksgiving.
Last week, we decided to go swimming again before the summer is over. My kids put on their swimsuits, we got out the towels, flip-flops, the swim bag and goggles before we piled into the minivan. We made sure everyone had sunscreen and that my youngest had her floaties. After we arrived, we staked our usual spot by the kiddie pool, sinking down into the white Adirondack chairs in the shade. My 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, who can readily swim on their own, headed off to the big pool, where there were lifeguards watching. My youngest jumped in the kiddie pool to play Barbies with another little girl.
I couldn’t help but think about how quickly stages of parenting evolve. I no longer know many of the other parents who now frequent the kiddie pool, often with toddlers or infants in tow. The spot where we have spent so many summers - at least for the last nine years - where we had playdates with other young families, where I chased my toddler while I was nine months pregnant with my son, where my older kids happily played while I sat nearby with a newborn seemingly not all that long ago, isn’t quite the fit for us anymore.
My oldest kids are too old for the baby pool. My youngest child, age 4, isn’t yet old enough to swim on her own. And so it’s by the baby pool I sit, watching my preschooler play.
I try to remind myself that this stage is fleeting. One day, my kids won’t want to go to the pool with me and they’ll be old enough to go on their own. While my older kids once begged me to swim with them, they prefer to be with their friends now, as I watch. There is freedom in that.
But danger, too, as I know the risks of drowning are still there. And so I sit, trying to keep a watch on all three, making sure everyone is happy and above water.
It was while watching my youngest child pretend to be a mermaid and try to put on goggles by herself, albeit upside down, that I had to remember to appreciate the moment. One day I will miss sitting by the kiddie pool, watching my youngest, with her chubby thighs and sun-bleached hair, play happily with her floats around her arms. One day, she too will graduate to the big pool beyond.
But not quite yet.
As I tried to coax my 4-year-old out of the water for another layer of sunscreen, she got excited.
“Let’s go to the big pool, Mommy,” she said. “I want to jump and for you to catch me.”
It was just this summer that my 4-year-old started jumping off the side of the big pool and into the water, having me catch her. She isn’t quite yet confident to do it on her own, so instead she insists on holding my fingers. She tries, usually unsuccessfully, to keep her face above water as she splashes down into the cool water. But each time, she holds tight onto my fingers and swims toward me afterward, reaching for my neck, reaching for safety.
Yes, I am quickly getting too old for the kiddie pool. But I’m OK, right where I am.
Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.