One of the few services we receive for the maintenance fees in our townhouse complex is a swimming pool that opens a third of the year (I’m excluding the landscaping service that cuts the grass every week and consistently destroys the beauty of the cherry blossoms by pruning the trees down to nothing a month before they bloom). For me, it is basically a lap pool where I can enjoy an alternative exercise, but I am clearly in the minority. For almost every one else, it is place to socialize more than swim.
I don’t know why people feel compelled to gather at the pools. In theory, they could lounge on deck chairs and booze and smoke and suntan anywhere. Yet, somehow that wouldn’t be the same for them. If they are going to laze, apparently they need a body of water to laze beside. Somehow, setting up on the lawn or under a tree wouldn’t be right.
One thing is clear: They don’t need the pool to swim. On hot days, the pool is full of children and their aquatic toys, which probably outweigh the children by a ratio of two to one. Often, especially in the first days after school is out, teenagers up to the age of sixteen or so, will swim too – occasionally, clusters of boys and girls nervously flirting with each other, but, more often, all-boy gangs who play endless games of Marco Polo and never tire of jumping off the practically springless diving board.
But adults – almost never. You sometimes see a parent with a newborn, or standing in the pool near their children. Very occasionally, the local drones might stand up to their waists and toss a tennis ball back and forth. But none of these activities last for very long, and most of the time they don’t involve swimming, either. Most adults don’t even get that wet.
Yet every single one of them insists that their children learn to swim. I don’t know why – with the example they are giving, their kids will never come near the water. Presumably, the hope is that if the kids ever fall into a disused well and Lassie isn’t around to get help, then half-forgotten instincts will kick in and they will be able to tread water long enough to be rescued.
The real reason, I suspect, that the parents never swim is that going to the pool is a part-holiday from minding their children. Just as parents used to park their kids in front of the children’s section in the book store where I used to work (then go off to shop and complain if the staff didn’t watch their little darlings), the pool is a place where they can relax their guards. If their children are screaming from a gnash in their shin, or are systematically drowning a sibling – well, someone else will handle it, surely. Meanwhile, they can read their book or make calls on their cell phones or discuss sports (if they’re men) or diets and TV shows (if they’re women) in lazy, bored voices. Until it’s time for dinner, their children become strangers at the pool, and someone else’s problem.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to swim my lengths, and not making much headway against the sea of tots. When they’re under six, they don’t have much idea of sharing, so the hope that they might leave me enough space to swim if I steer clear of their play area rarely gets realized. They dash into my path, breaking my rhythm. If I change positions in the pool, after a length or two they are back in my path. I sometimes think that I swim twice as far as I actually credit myself with – and, of course, there’s no use appealing to the parents, who have disowned their kids for the duration.
The lack of courtesy used to infuriate me, especially since all I want is a quiet bit of exercise after a day of work. Nowadays, though, I try to be more philosophical. Doing my steady breast stroke, I mentally shake my head about the foibles of pool society, and look forward to the next rain day, when I’ll have the pool to myself.