Yes it’s cold outside. Yes it’s almost Christmas. What better time than now to talk about summer at the pool. This will either be a complete tease to anyone who’s landscape is covered in snow and ice or give you something to imagine and make you feel warm. Regardless it will most likely make you want to feel the warmth of the sun and have a BBQ. So I guess, sorry?
When I was growing up the place to be in the summer was at the public pool. Like I’ve said before we lived in a very upscale suburban neighborhood so the pool was well cared for and the grounds around it offered a lot in the way of diversion. Besides the pool there were tennis courts, a soccer field, a basketball court and forests that we explored and built forts in.
In the summer the main goal of my parents was to make sure I was out of the house doing stuff. This “stuff” largely consisted of being at the pool. I would start my day with my parents bringing me to swimming lessons, then shortly after I would have swim team practice. Swim team was a lot of fun and I regularly competed in the weekly swim meets against the teams from other towns. We were generally a middle of the pack team, sometimes we did very well, sometimes we didn’t. For a few years though I dominated my age group in the breast stroke due to my height, so that was fun.
After going home and getting lunch my day really began. I would get on my bike and go back to the pool, which was a good 2-3 kilometers away. The ride started with a vicious uphill push but, after the exhilarating downhill cruise, was for the most part a flat ride. The only downside to this of course was that at the end of the day I had to go uphill again after spending the whole day swimming and running around the forest.
The pool was basically where all the kids spent their days in the summer. If they weren’t occupied with sailing lessons (which I didn’t take part in because they were expensive) or other sports they were at the pool or going up and down the streets on their bikes. In that part of town everyone lived fairly close together and we regularly found ourselves going in and out of each others houses, much to the chagrin of the parents who just wanted us to be out and not at home.
My best friend at the time lived a street over from the pool so his place became our defacto base of operations. If we were hungry we would go there and raid his fridge, usually opting to sit and watch golf with his dad which was a mind numbing endeavor of which I never understood the appeal. We would gather any unwanted G.I. Joes that we could blow up or set on fire and head out into the woods to conduct our experiments and when the Joes were melted good and proper, and we’d run out of fuel we’d head back to the pool.
I spent most of my formative years at that pool. I was bullied there. I made good friends there. I had my first kiss there. We would get in trouble and have picnics. It was our main hangout. It was close enough to the next town that we could bike over and get poutine and soda, or Popsicles or jujubes. Buying jujubes was a kind of adolescent foray into fraud. At that time they were sold individually. Larger ones were 5 cents and Swedish berries were a penny. So we would fill the brown paper bag that the cashier had given us with large jujubes then cover the top with a couple of layers of penny candies. We’d take our packed and bulging bag to the counter and tell him it was 1 dollar worth of penny candies. Though the cashier was dubious he was also a minimum wage employee and had no interest in dumping the bag out to count out 100 jujubes. So more often than not he would take our word for it and we’d walk away with 3 dollars worth of candy for a buck. We felt like we had pulled one over on him though I’m sure he knew exactly what we were doing. I didn’t say we were criminal masterminds but we felt like it.
The camp outs we had as part of the pool community were another experience that I’m sorry my kids don’t get to enjoy. One or two nights every summer we would all pitch tents in the soccer field. Every kid in town was there and we’d stay up all night running around in the dark and driving the lifeguards, who were charged with keeping us safe, crazy. The evening included games, a bbq, and midnight swim. I’m pretty sure this didn’t actually happen at midnight, but it very well could have. We would all jump in the pool in the dark, the lights on the sides would be lit up and we would have games and prizes and usually a game of water polo. Water polo is a brutal sport that I’m surprised doesn’t result in more drownings. It’s like playing rugby while trying to tread water.
The first girl I ever kissed was at one of these campouts. It must have been one of the last summers I lived in that town. I was probably 12 or 13 years old. She had come down from up north with her stepsister who came every summer to visit her dad. Her stepsister had become one of our group, my 2 friends who lived just up the street and myself. And we all had a crush on her. Her 2 stepsisters came with her one summer for a few weeks and we spent the whole time riding around on our bikes and hanging out. She was my first “girlfriend”. But young love and long distance relationships never last.
Being a kid in the 1980s was a very different time. I was allowed to go off on my bike with very little indication to my parents where I was going. Usually their inquiries were met with “to the pool” and off I went. I would ride the 3 kilometers to the pool on my own from the time I was 8 or 9. With maybe 5 bucks in my pocket to buy food if I got hungry. I would sometimes make the trip back and forth several times a day with no worries about my safety and next to no communication during the day. I was normally home before dark unless I were to call and say I’m sleeping over at my friend’s house. This is a kind of freedom most kids don’t have now. My own son is now 10 and we give him the freedom to go to the local pool on his own, but we live just a couple of blocks away, and he has a cell phone, and he has to take his blood tester (he’s diabetic) and a couple of juice boxes with him.
Growing up in that town was like being in a different world. There was a whole community and the parents knew almost every kid and who they belonged to. It wasn’t like the bubbles everyone lives in now where they keep to themselves. I’m not sure when times changed. The kids who grew up running around on their own, without cell phones and getting into trouble are the same people who won’t let their kids go down the street on their own now.
When did we decide that what we did is no longer OK for our own kids? Is it more inherently dangerous now? I don’t think so, certainly more is reported now though. The internet has brought all the bad news to our fingertips and we live in a world where politicians make careers from fear mongering. Have we grown up and realized that what we used to do as kids is insane and are trying to protect our own children from making the mistakes we made? Will they grow up and decide they were too sheltered as children and give their own kids the kind of freedom we enjoyed? I suppose there is no way to truly know why it’s so much different now. The world has changed and childhood experiences have changed with it. In 30 years will my son look back and say “I didn’t do shit except play video games the whole time I was a kid”? I hope not. His experiences will be his own, they will be different for sure, mine are not the same as my father’s. He’ll have his own stories to tell his kids as he looks back on his life, his own experiences to share with them. Maybe I’m looking at it through the lens of my own childhood and trying to compare it too much, my parents didn’t know what I was doing and I certainly wasn’t going to tell them when I was a kid. It’s probably the same with him. What I do know is he’s home a lot more in the summer than I ever was as a kid.
Going to the pool everyday made me active, it gave social experiences some good, some bad. Being made fun and told I was stupid because I had a speech impediment at the time, bullied because I was nerdier than the other kids and came from a family that didn’t have as much money informed the person I am today. In a lot of ways it taught me to be more compassionate and consider others situations before making a judgement. It also ingrained insecurities and doubts that I would struggle with later in life. What we do and experience as kids are the primary building blocks for who we become as adults, for better or worse. How we choose to use those experiences makes all the difference in who we become. And sometimes we let them affect us more than we would like or not enough. It’s easy to see in retrospect how we should use our experiences to inform ourselves but sometimes we see it too late, after making decisions we should have known better than to make. We can only hope to grow and learn with each new experience.