The last day of Zoey’s pre-school career came last Thursday. And I was so bummed.
I couldn’t figure it out. I wasn’t sad because she’s growing up (I actually much prefer and enjoy parenting little kids to parenting babies), not because we’re now without child care for her (if you have one at home, why not have two?), and not because it was cold as heck on the first day of “summer.”
It was because we don’t have a pool to go to. When I think of summer time, I think of the Homestead South Pool. I think of being a kid and spending entire days with my mom and her mom friends and their kids (my friends) and laying on the warm pavement and eating sandies and the moms saying things like, “Chlorine sure does make them hungry!” Laugh, laugh, laugh!
And I think of all the neighborhood kids counting down to Tuesday night because it was tube night.
I think of my dad going “under” from one end of the pool all the way to the other without a single breath and thinking that was some kind of wonderful.
Years after my own baby pool days, my big pool days with Kerry, and Christy, Amelia, and Jenny transitioned from playing dolphins to making up synchro routines. I remember the summer we were deemed ready to ride bikes to the pool on our own and spend the day there sans parent. To me, this day was more significant than turning 21.
A few summers after those, I observed it all as a lifeguard. I saw moms with young kids sitting around the baby pool making friends and setting dates to do it again. Their kids splashing side by side and “sharing” squirt toys and buckets. Everyone went home sun-soaked and smiling, tired, and smelling of sunshine and chlorine. By the end of the summer the moms didn’t even need to set dates, they just arrived with thermus jugs full of Margaritas (Patty Bolling), plastic cups and plenty to go around. Goldfish crackers, grapes, capri-suns, and smiles all became community property.
As a lifeguard, I taught their kids to swim. I watched their eyes quietly fill with tears as Makayla finally made it all the way from one side to another without putting her feet down.
When I think childhood, I think summer. Summer nights of street games with neighbor kids, skateboard trains down the sidewalk, the ice cream man, playing add on with my aunt Libby at the country club pool, trips to the amusement park when our cousins Danny and Brien came to town, it was a special day when the morning was spent at Skate City’s “pixie skate” with my besties; there were trips to the beach to build sand castles and tempt the Atlantic’s “Shark Alley” with cousins Jodi and Laura; backyard birthday parties at my aunt Nancy’s house … and when all that wasn’t happening, it was my mom taking us to the south pool and “everyone” being there. This is summer.
My kids / our arctic life includes NONE of that. We are without neighbors for street games, paved streets for bikes, no sidewalks, no amusement parks, no roller skating rinks; we aren’t even close to aunts, cousins, or backyard family birthday parties to go with them; a trip to the ocean is out of the question because since we live so far from family every vacation we ever take is to visit our landlocked families … ALL of these disparities between my happy childhood and my children’s childhood became glaringly obvious when we greeted summer without an outdoor pool within 600 miles of us.
Where is the happy childhood for my children? Is Fairbanks going to take the bliss of summer away from us too? The worst part is this is that summer is supposed to be the best part of this place! (To me this is like saying root canals are the best because dentures stink). This is what I was thinking as I drove to the pre-school’s year-end picnic at the town park. At least now I knew why I was bummed.
At the picnic all the kids, including mine, were laughing, and eating grapes, drinking capri suns. I watched Lucy shriek with glee as she pulled on a dog’s tail for the 100th time and Zoey with her friend Aliera were dumping out bottles of bubbles with a huge grins on their faces … I realized a happy childhood does not necessarily have to be MY childhood. Happiness is not having the best of everything; it is making the best of everything.
So, I’m trying my best to get into gardening, and nature walks, and a whole lot of playground time is in the cards for us. I’m trying the “bloom where you’re planted” ideology, which seems especially apropro because all we have to work with around here is the earth. At least I feel better for trying.
Hopefully someday my kids will look back and know that at least I tried. And hopefully they’ll have a happy summer – and childhood – with or without the south pool, or anything like it, nearby.
But just in case, Grandpa Bern, can you please sign them up for swim lessons at the south pool during our summer stay? I’ll bring the margaritas.