If you had to track my parenting evolution with one single experience that recurred year after year, I think the most illuminating piece of my life to look at would be our time at our community pool. This is our fourth year as pool members, and it's always been a blessing and a curse. Here's a snapshot of our pool experiences to date:
2012: (ages 9 months and 2 years) New to town, I talk to anyone I come across who seems to have kids the same age as mine. My arms nearly fall off from holding nine-month-old Greta for the duration of our pool visit. I live in fear of diaper incidents. Lucia brings a million toys to the baby pool and I nearly lose my mind trying to keep track of them in the free-for-all that is the baby pool toy-sharing/stealing culture. Putting sunscreen on a baby and a toddler is a $%@&*& nightmare every single time. I haul Lucia and a beach bag and Greta in a stroller. I bribe Greta with snacks at departure time so she'll get into the stroller without a meltdown. I am in the water every single second. We stay exclusively in the baby pool.
2013: (ages 1 and 3) Ditto everything above, except that Greta is walking now, which of course means she's more likely to drown. There are some difficult potty encounters, wrangling three-year-old Lucia's wet swimsuit up and down in the restroom while not losing track of Greta. Ick to wet pool bathrooms. Ick ick ick. Andrew attempts to take Lucia to a swimming class, and she refuses to participate every single day. I am still in the water every single second. We are still pretty exclusively in the baby pool.
2014: (ages 2 and 4) With the exception of the sunscreen nightmare, things are a little better this year. Both girls love the pool. Both girls hate/fear other kids, which is pretty difficult to sustain in the ant colony of the baby pool, but somehow they do it. They do a lot of painting with water, poolside. They get the annoying habit of running up and down the grassy hill when it's time to leave. Greta spends a lot of time refusing to move from the tiny fishpond, making it impossible to watch both kids at once. Lucia assents to a few private swim lessons with a lifeguard. Sometimes, when the stars and moons and planets are aligned, I can actually sit on a chair by the pool while the girls play in the water (two feet away from me max). Still exclusively in the baby pool.
2015: (ages 3 and 5)
Suddenly, OUR POOL WORLD HAS EXPANDED. Buoyed (figuratively) by months of swimming lessons and (literally) by puddle jumpers, both girls want to be in the middle pool--which, at its deepest point, is at their necks. Lucia gave up the puddle jumper pretty quickly, and her already well-developing swimming skills took off dramatically. Now she's swimming on her own, raising her head to take a breath, and swimming with her goggles to find diving toys on the bottom of the pool--then trying her best to dive down to get them. (She's so tiny she has a hard time sinking to the bottom.) Lucia just swims about, dashing from one end of the pool to the other, throwing toys to herself and retrieving them endlessly. It's pretty amazing to watch. Greta is a little moody with the pool, loving it some days, whining on other days. They like playing on the entry ramp in the biggest pool; and they also like returning to the baby pool now and then to play with kickboards or mermaid dolls.
A new dynamic has emerged: when Lucia runs into friends from pre-K, she likes to play with them, swimming and diving for toys; Greta, left behind, is visibly saddened when this happens. The difference right now in their skills--physical and social--is vaster than it's been since Greta was a newborn, and it's new territory to navigate for all of us. I signed both girls up for a week of pool swimming lessons, which wasn't so great: not challenging enough for Lucia, and Greta refused to even get in the pool for the duration. But Lucia came away from her lessons with two new friends, whom she ran into and played with in the days that followed. Playing with kids her age is appropriate and great. But poor little Greta is definitely used to having Lucia's undivided attention and companionship.
I am still in the pool pretty much every second, bobbing along with Greta, throwing diving toys to Lucia, waving underwater while Lucia swims to me. Sunscreen for Greta is never fun, but not the disaster it used to be. In short: the best pool year yet. I'm not one of the moms sitting with a book in the shade yet, and I'm not able to leave the kids to do some actual swimming in the big pool, but I can see it in my future. One of these days I'll smugly lift my New Yorker and laugh quietly (in commiseration, of course) at the flustered moms of babies and toddlers, doing their time in crazytown, done with mine.