I almost told my daughter to pee in the swimming pool last week.
Seriously. I was this close.
The girls took swim lessons over the summer (a class which could be renamed Advanced Face Wetting), so we take them to the little pool in our health club to practice their strokes -- er -- face wetting.
For the most part, I keep training-wheel hands on their backs and stomach while they pretend to float, suggest little exercises, like leg kicking and bubble blowing and, then they can get on with their business of splashing and bobbing. I float around the shallow pool, imagining myself in the Mediterranean. The girls are ready to practice their swim-face wett-ing again, so we gather at the shallow end. We were all mid-dip when nature apparently called my youngest.
"Where you goin'?" I asked, as she quickly tipped up the pool steps.
"I gotta go to the bathroom," she sang over her shoulder. Never stopping, her small body tip-tip-tipped even faster across the puddled tiles.
And there it was, an unexpected relic eagerly waiting to leap from my tongue: "Just go in the pool ..."
I didn't actually say it. But the fact that the thought had nudged its way from dusty recesses to the front of my mind left me strangely uneasy for the rest of the day. Yes, peeing in public pools has been a long-abandoned consideration (hey ... don't make that face. I'm sure lifeguards around the world didn't manufacture the Red Dye threat just because of me). Clearly, long-abandoned is not the same as gone.
Don't worry, Neighbor, public pools are still safe, but where did that third-grade thought come from? Pee in the pool!? Was this juvenile impulse some kind of test, or just a rude reminder of how I'm probably only marginally qualified for this parenting gig? (Yes, I know that every parent is one of two breeds: those who have no idea about what they're doing and those who like to think they do.) Still, what if my next Ghost of Undeveloped Wisdom is too squirrelly for my Common Sense traps and Think it-Don't Speak it filters?
Would the Sixth Grade version of Me advise my children to simply suffer through the mercurial indignities that will prove to be the hallmark of flaky, fair-weather "friends?" Will the Ninth Grade Me suggest that just one pack of Marlboro Lights won't be any big deal? What will the 12th Grade Me have recommend for balancing those thin lines between high White society and deep Black roots? And, holy smokes, what kind of advice will tumble from my tongue when the College Me decides to chime in about loveless sex?
I don't trust any of these people with my children. Still, I know they are coming. I know there will be more moments than I'll want to catalog, pitting my common sense with normal young adult stupidity (let's all face it, folks: stealing candy bars, playing ding dong ditch pranks, getting hickeys and, later, drinking beer through our nose until we puked was / is stupid.) In those stark moments, I will have to play my role as the adult. The parent. The wise one. The one who never did stupid things, and introduces every warning talk with, "When I was your age ..." How tired will that get before they even hit middle school?!
I don't want to be that parent, either -- plastic and nervous, more obsessed with crafting the perfect message and preserving the image I'll have spent their entire lives building. I'll want to be real for my kids. Not real with my kids, (Alert: that's cheesy) but real for them. That I'm not a perfect person is a fact, I'm sure, will have been solidly established with them. (Umm, I'd guess they're pretty clear on that point right now).
That I try to have those imperfections chisel me into a better person will, I pray, make me a living lesson for them. Lessons about what, I won't pretend to be entirely sure. I just know that they should understand that mistakes and bad decisions are a mark of becoming adults. I just gotta have a conference with the former versions of me on how / when / if to release the details.
For the moment, we all agree to start with an easy one: don't pee in the pool.