I really thought I was done with this stuff. I mean, so, maybe, it has taken seven years and four kids, but I am finally comfortable with my unique kind of parenting. Finally. And lord knows I am happily ensconced in a familiar circle of friends, most with similar mom approaches and a few with different ones, just to be interesting. And all is respectful, but not too respectful; plenty of laughter and teasing and that comfort that comes from years of carefully moving back the trust lines until the person is solidly in your heart and way up in your business. I am not mom-single. I am paired off (tripled off? quadrupled off? whatever-5-times-is off?). Point is, I have mom friends. I am established in a mom circle. I am NOT mom-dating anymore. Thank the Lord.
And then we moved. And as much as I would like to turn into a mom-hermit and only communicate with my mom friends via Facebook and email, the four energy-balls I live with are not going to tolerate that. So, back into the fray I go. And this is where I find myself yesterday evening; terrified, rusty, tongue-tied, and half-naked. Because, of course, my first Davenport mom-dating happens at the pool. THE POOL. Nothing like jumping in the deep end, eh?
And it is not-crowded-pool, on top of things. This is not the drunken college bar dating scene that a crowded park can be, where you can hide your quirks and flaws because there is sure to be a mom less socially appropriate than you are. Someone else will be drunker than you. (Of course, I am speaking metaphorically, but hey, no judging if you need a drink or two to get you through the mom-dating scene.) Someone else will bring fruit snacks or, god forbid, candy. Someone else will use the spray sunscreen right out there by the swings. Someone else will violate whatever parenting rule is popular this week and everyone will stare at her, rendering whatever awkward stunt you just pulled or spilled on yourself irrelevant and you can just blend into the background. Crowded park is the perfect place for early mom-dating. You can just watch for awhile before you decide to talk to someone.
Not-crowded-pool is like a snobby wine bar. Everything is on display and there is no where to hide. It involves everything you can be mom-judged for; snack choice, sunscreen choice, water bottle choice, pool bag choice (that old plastic Target bag? You just showed up at the snobby wine bar wearing yoga pants and that t-shirt you painted the living room in.) What you dress your children in will be judged. Are they wearing goggles? Are they wearing rash guards? Do they all have matching sandals? Matching towels? Did you remember towels? There's nowhere to hide when everyone is half-naked, and don't forget, you are probably half-naked too. Snobby-wine-bars/Not-crowded-pools are not where you can use a drappy top and those jeans with stretch material built in to skim and hide stuff. Nope, it's all hanging out there for all to see.
Basically, your ability to monitor your children around water is major. Are you a helicopter mom? Are you a trust-the-lifeguards mom? Are you a sun-yourself-on-this-deck-chair-and-read mom? Are you a drop-them-off-and-go-home-to-take-a-nap mom? Whatever you are, it is going to appeal to some moms and make other moms want to call Child Services on you. There appears to be no middle ground here; it's the toilet paper roll under or over question of mom-dating. And you won't know which mom is which until it is too late and they are glaring at you across the pool. Because the pool isn't crowed. There is no one else to look at and watching children frolic in the water becomes really boring, really fast.
She's beautiful. Of course, she's beautiful. That effortless natural beauty that may come from a lovely soul full of benevolent light radiating from within or it may be expertly applied Maybelline. I can't quite tell because I don't wear my glasses at the pool and she's mostly just a tan, tall blur right now. She's made considerably taller by the fact that she is standing on the edge of the pool and I am sitting on the steps leading into the shallow end, desperately trying to keep Super Baby from smacking his head on the metal guard rail, while watching the other three flail around, because, due to the move, swim lessons didn't happen this summer. (Don't ask me what my excuse was the past 7 summers, I can't be bothered to remember that long ago.) She looks so calm, and she should. She has achieved that sought after milestone of moms the world over: her child can swim and she no longer has to get in the pool. She looks jaunty; sunglasses perched on her head, fitted tee from her latest 5K, tiny little shorts that somehow manage to not look trashy, pedicured toes peeking out of nice sandals. No plastic bargain bin flip flops here. She's tanned and toned and terrible. I hate her and she won't go away.
And I doubt she's going anywhere soon. My children haven't seen other children in a month; they swoop onto her son the second he cannonballs into the pool. And he appears delighted by the attention. Age-wise, he's somewhere between the oldest two Supers, and, because Tan Mom won't stop talking, I know that he is an only child and has been lonely this summer because they just moved here as well. I also know that he loves sports, is highly advanced in math, walked early, and has a bit of an anger problem but they are working on this through a variety of behavior plans and charts that I immediately forget.
I am trying to be nice and I am trying to watch my kids at a new pool and I am trying to get the lay of the land here in a new city and I am trying to adjust to the fact that I am mom-dating again after 4 blissful years of not having to. I am trying, but I am not doing very well because suddenly, everything happens at once. While she is telling me about their summer reading plan, Super 1st has the audacity to say that he is going into 2nd grade and Tan Child is going into 1st grade but that must be a lie because Super 1st is way smaller than Tan Child so Tan Child splashes Super 1st in the face while yelling that he is a liar. This is also the moment when Super Preschooler sprays his water gun straight into the women's aerobics class that is going on across the pool and hits the instructor, straight in the back. This is also the moment when Super Toddler decides she is hungry so she drags over the snacks I brought, a box of chocolate chip granola bars and a box of strawberries (someone has taken a bite out of each one), in a plastic Target bag that she promptly leaves in the water. And this is also the moment that Super Baby decides to pull down my swim suit, flashing my unfettered mammaries right at Tan Mom and momentarily blinding her.
Time stops. For exactly 2 seconds. For exactly 2 seconds, I want to cry. I want to scream. I want to throw a tantrum of epic proportions. I don't want to mom-date anymore. I don't want to be in new place. I don't want to feel like I don't know what I am dong. I don't want to be the fat pale one talking to the thin tan one. I don't want this. Why is it always like this? Why am I always so god damn awkward? Could I just not be awkward for 2 seconds? Is that too much to ask?! Could I just know what I am doing for once?! It's exactly 2 seconds, and then a little voice in the back of my head whispers, "you do know. You are fine and you are awkward. Just own it."
So, I do. I own it. I laugh and say "whoops," while hauling up my top. I scoop the plastic bag out of the pool and toss it toward our stuff, while opening a granola bar with my teeth and telling Super Toddler to eat over there. I snap my fingers at Super Preschool and hold out my hand for the water gun, while shouting an apology to the aerobics instructor, who waves at me and smiles back at her giggling class. I turn to deal with Super 1st, to find that he has calmly explained that people grow at different rates, it happens all the time that people think he is young, it's no big deal, and would Tan Child like to dive for rings with him? I turn to Tan Mom to find her slumped on the side of the pool, looking horrified. I guess she is still scarred from the blinding white of my naked chest, so I start to apologize again when she turns to me, looking helpless, with tears brimming up in her eyes.
"I just don't know what to do when he acts like that."
"Oh, it's OK. They figured it out. Look; they are diving together over there!"
"I am so sorry. Sometimes I think if he had siblings, he'd act better, but I can't seem to have any more and I really want to, but I guess it's not to be."
Super Baby crawls over the lip of the pool right into her lap and she pulls him to her, drenching her adorable outfit and knocking her sunglasses off her head. She snuggles him to her and peeks up at me over his hair. And I suddenly see that all the perfection I stuffed her with was made out of my own insecurity and jealousy. She's just like me. She's lonely and scared and new to town and awkward. Holy Cats. She's awkward! Oh, and now that she is down here closer to me, I can see that Maybelline has nothing to do with her; her beauty is all her own. So, I take a deep breath and dive in.
"Don't even worry about it. Kids are figuring it out, you know; all those new feelings in those little bodies, it's a wonder they aren't throwing fits and acting up all the time. Did you see Super Preschooler shoot that teacher with the water gun?! I thought I was gonna die of embarrassment! By the way, my name is Erin, and it looks like our sons are getting along great. We should totally hang out sometime."
"Really? I'd love that! My name is Ann. I honestly don't know what I am doing and you seem so amazing. I couldn't imagine taking 4 children to the pool by myself. Can I ask you like a million questions?"
"Sure. You want a granola bar? Or a half-eaten strawberry?"
Well, alright, fine. I suppose I can mom-date if food's involved. As long as we can jump past the point where we are just ordering salads to impress each other, to the point we eat a whole cheesecake together. With our hands.
Super Toddler knows that the best way to mom-date
at the pool is to make a dramatic entrance.