Lessons learned poolside
MAR 31, 2015
By NATHALIE HARDY | Yamhill Valley News-Register
When I set off to visit my parents in Palm Springs, where they live when they aren’t back in the Old Country, I knew my boys would learn some new words in my native tongue of Slovak.
What I didn’t expect was for them to learn some new cuss words in their own native language, hurled as insults at kids acting like a bunch of little, well, kids.
Hoping to take a final swim on last year’s visit to the 55-and-over complex, my boys learned a lesson in handling disappointment when another child had a bathroom accident in the pool, requiring its closure for the evening. I captioned the photo of them standing sadly by the “closed” sign this way: “Every party has a pooper.”
On their first day back in the pool this year, they learned that is, indeed, always the case.
Earlier, I’d noticed a man in a Hawaiian shirt with black socks and sandals neatly tucked under his chair. His ears were covered with headphones that looked like a set of earmuffs designed for a Michigan winter. He had a little brown cooler with him.
He motioned to a lady who was fully dressed, but sunbathing nonetheless, and asked her why she didn’t have a box of wine with her. “Because I enjoy sitting at a table, with a glass, a cloth napkin and a place mat,” she said.
He laughed, which made it seem like he might be a nice guy. Then, apropos of nothing that I or two other nearby mothers were able to discern, he grumpily gathered his things and yelled expletives at the kids, waving his cooler for emphasis as he shuffled away.
Another mom and I followed him out. I asked, “Excuse me, Sir? Did my kids do something to annoy you?”
“Yes! They’re kids! They shouldn’t be here,” he replied. “Just because you think they’re so-o-o-o-o precious doesn’t mean I do.”
He suggested I take them to a public pool instead. He told me he lives in a 55-and-up community so he can avoid little [expletive] like them.
I get it. Not everyone loves kids. But a sign posted at the pool welcomes children who are visiting residents.
The man said that’s the problem. He complains to the board after that year after year it continues to welcome the little [expletive]s.
“Hey, look,” I told him. “I don’t think my kids are so precious all the time. Trust me on that.
“I get that you don’t like kids, but here’s the deal. Hate them all you want for existing, but let’s not be calling them names,” I said as the other mom chimed in that it wasn’t okay to treat the kids like that no matter how he felt. She and her children remembered his vitriol from the year before.
For good measure, I told him, “This is a public area, and they are visiting their grandparents, who don’t find them adorable every single second either, I assure you. But they only see them once a year, so we plan to make the most of it. If it helps you plan ahead, we’ll be here all week.”
That night, I asked my boys to color him a few pictures as a gesture of goodwill.
“You want us to make pictures for a guy who hates us?” my older one asked, giving me The Look.
“Yeah, I do,” I said. “He can’t really hate you because he doesn’t know you. Plus, I think we need to forgive him and show him a little love. Don’t you think he could use some?”
“Well, that’s for sure,” Sam agreed.
So he drew a picture of an angry face surrounded by happier ones. He addressed it, “Dear Sir,” and signed it “like” instead of “love,” because he felt that would be “too much.”
I also wrote the man a note expressing my regret that our enjoyment of the pool encroached on his. I mentioned what a blessing it was to be able to give my kids an opportunity to enjoy this kind of a trip, and promised we’d be gone soon.
At first, Sam was focused on trying to make “the mean man like us.” I suggested that although the man acted mean, he could also be a very nice person, just having a bad day. Even a lot of them strung together perhaps.
We also talked about how it’s not our job to “make people like us.” They will or they won’t. Either way, we can be respectful and go about our business.
Sam suggested the boys could try to lie low so it didn’t seem like there were kids at the pool at all. Not necessary, I told him. As long as they remained considerate and didn’t splash on other people, I told him, they were fine.
There is a concerning trend of parents apologizing for their kids being kids. I am not a fan of that. I’m more of an advocate for teaching our kids to be considerate of others, but confident in their right to take up space of their own as well.
Since parenting happens in all the moments, not just the teachable ones we engineer, if I want my kids to believe that love wins and grace is the way, my focus needed to be on my response rather than on his actions.
I was on deadline with this column when we ran into our grumpy friend again. I approached him with our pictures and he waved them away.
“What’s all that?” he asked.
“Well, the other day I felt like writing you a note because I noticed our enjoyment encroached on yours.”
“Nah!” he said, sliding the packet back across the table at me. “I’m just intolerant.”
He said it with a disarming grin. Then he threw his head back and laughed at himself.
“I’m intolerant of a lot of things I guess,” he said, waving his headphones at me. “That’s why I have these.”
“Sometimes I wish I had those, too,” I said, laughing with him as “Kumbaya” played in my head.
Later, Sam asked me what intolerant meant. “It’s like when things you can’t control bug you a lot,” I explained.
“Well, he seems to accept he’s like that, so we should accept it, too,” Sam said before going back to practicing his handstands under water.
If there’s a better take-home message here, I don’t know what it is.
Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two little boys and a husband who understands deadlines come before dusting.