I like other people’s children. I work in a school during the winter and have no problem at all watching another mother’s children become independent thinkers, future world leaders, or Nobel Prize winners. I admit part of this might be I was unsure my own brood of five would survive to adulthood. Shamefaced, I must admit the threat of death was everywhere for my girls daily. “Touch that cake, I will kill you,” or “Get off that roof before you kill yourself,” or my personal daily mantra: “You will be the death of me yet.”
My girls managed to do quite well in spite of the constant risk a life was ended if mom’s last diet soda left the fridge in some daughter’s hands. My girls all are happy, mostly well adjusted, and very much alive. In fact, so good a job I thought I had done, I fancied I might have the ability to supervise the children of others in a far less structured setting than school. When the complex where I reside needed a temporary monitor for their swimming pool, I thought I had cornered the perfect summer job. I could work on my tan as I lolled in a chair to watch those other parents who were required to be there with children under ten supervise their future president or Harvard valedictorian. According to the woman who hired me, all I had to do was remind them of the rules.
The screaming and whining began in the first hour of the first day. The mom who was doing the screaming demanded to know why the two-foot squirt gun that shot water the length of the pool was not allowed. She was not impressed by the whining of the three mothers clutching their crying toddlers drenched by his Super Soaker. She insisted to see the rule, and I helpfully pointed it out to her. Softly in the background were the whispers and pointing of the two women who were comparing me to a certain body part when I warned them management did not want deck chairs placed at the edge of the pool.
Yes, I like other people’s kids. For the most part, when I asked them to stop playing with the hose that filled the pool, and stop doing handstands off the pool deck, they obeyed. They grumbled, but moved on to entertain themselves by keeping other kids’ heads pushed underwater till the lucky one who was “it” stopped splutering and kicking and did a momentary face down float in the water. Oh yes, watching the kids was simple. It was those parents—those crying, whining, complaining parents who looked like they would make this the job one that had all the fun of do-it-yourself dentistry.
Being new, not really knowing who was who in the pool’s little society, and not having had much opportunity to observe my training mentor in action due to a rainy training day, I decided to establish myself as a tough girl, firm and fair to everyone. I let a couple of registration paper mistakes slide, but threatened no future entrance if not corrected. I told an infant’s mom his diapered bottom could not be in a pool, but his feet could dangle as long as the diaper stayed dry (from pool water at least). I also told her—twice because I did not think she had heard me—I would not hesitate to make them go if she dipped the diaper. I thought I had done my job with a sense of compromise. I will bend but not break. I will show compassion for these parents who have swimsuit clad youngsters already stepping into the water before the correct forms are filed. Most of them appear grateful and make an effort to make sure their kids walk and not run before they jump into their sparkling summer dream.
Then there are these other mothers and fathers. They said they read those rules when you told them to, but insisted the rules did not apply to them courtesy of a free pass from the management. “Oh, Miss D. said we could keep our open soda containers under the table” while the rules clearly said no soda allowed in the pool area. Or “we did this last year” a phrase often stated while their back was to the “Attention: New Pool Rules” sign.
Finally, one father of some of the rowdy kids decided he didn’t need no rules from some stranger, since he was, after all, a pool regular. He protested the “no squirt guns allowed” rule by squirting it at—wait for it—the pool monitor and another woman who claimed to be his mother. At that point I told him and his family to lose the squirt guns. I did not say please. This twenty-something gentleman’s mother (a fact I learned later from a kinder and gentler gossip) made it a point to mention to most of the pool I was rude and unfriendly, and her being the former pool manager she would make it a point to let my boss know she had hired a loser. Then she and her family left.
And within moments my dream job began. The squirt guns were gone. The rowdy boys were gone. The two women who wanted deck chairs in the deep end … all gone. Peace and quiet ruled a group of five boys ducking their heads happily under water. The formerly drenched toddlers played in puddles near moms now smiling in my direction. Kids cheerfully jumped off the edge of the pool and other peoples’ mothers reminded their own kids not to run and quit playing with that hose.
I realized at that moment the power of family, or at least the power of this one family. I thought about them all the rest of that day: these several people who had disrupted and dominated the lives of almost twenty-five others for about three hours. It seemed to me they had staked a claim of sorts to the pool by sheer number of their family members and a conviction they had rights that trumped the rights of others. In my mind it was a mob mentality. They displayed a sense of entitlement to make their rules and the right to attack and criticize the authority of someone who imposed upon them. In the end they left, whining and complaining about the way they were treated.
I knew then I wanted to stand up and applaud those moms and dads that told their kids we can’t splash little kids. I had a real sense of relief and hope that while some flaunted authority, in the end most people that day agreed rules and civility and compromise had made this a pleasant and happy day for the majority. I was proud of the adults who told their kids to walk and not run. I believe this gives us hope people who say the rules don’t apply to me will be and remain a small minority.
A certain politican’s wife once reminded us it takes a village. I agree, but would add this final thought. I am glad most people prefer to raise their kids in the villages of peaceful hunters and gatherers and avoid taking them near the warrior’s village. I want the village that says we may not like it, and it may not be what we want but more people will be happier if we monitor our own behavior, therefore we will be happier too. I like to think that this ideal works for a broader world as well as a temporary summer pool monitor.