August 02, 2006
As a little girl, I was not a pool person. Growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, we lived on the top floor of a two-family house. On hot, sticky days, I'd stand at my bedroom window and stare longingly at the small above-ground pool the landlord had placed in the tiny, weed-choked backyard for her grandchildren and wish I'd be invited downstairs for a dip.
But when I finally did get asked to join their family for some summer-splashing fun, the reality was a far cry from my fantasies. Much like life, I'd later learn. The water was always warm — a pretty good indicator that the two unruly kids who lived downstairs had opted for peeing in the pool — and dotted with dead moths.
The public pool held even less appeal. My grandmother and I would trudge over 10 steaming cement city blocks, only to be greeted by a sea of raucous young boys who, as I grew up, had to be avoided at all costs — their single goal in life seemed to be sneaking up underwater and snapping the tops of girls' two-piece bathing suits.
My uncle had an above-ground pool in Staten Island, and while I knew he meant well, when he'd ask us over for a swim, there was something about trekking across his backyard in my flip flops and climbing up the ladder— a fat, ungainly preteen in my god-awful, yellow-and-navy one-piece number — that made me feel less a bathing beauty and far more the proverbial beached whale.
As I got older, my pool experiences took on new, Coppertone-scented meaning. Every summer, my family and I took a two-week trip to the Jersey shore, where we stayed at The Empress in Asbury Park.
Back in the 70s, The Empress was the spot where rock stars booked rooms when not performing at Asbury Park's Convention Hall — you never knew who'd pop up at the pool. The whisper was always that Bruce Springsteen would head on over after a set at the Stone Pony for a swim.
And so, I'd stretch my newly skinny and suntan-oil slicked 13-year-old self out on a chaise lounge for endless summer hours, carefully turning over in my bikini every 15 minutes to cultivate a tan and rehearsing what I'd say should The Boss himself saunter over to sweep me away.
And, just in case Bruce never showed, there were always the lifeguards — tanned and toned, those Jersey boys were the stuff of my adolescent yearnings. I shared my first kiss with a lifeguard who serenaded me as he swept the deck, charmed me with his sweet-talking blarney, and taught me about heartbreak after I spotted him strolling the boardwalk with someone else.
After I moved to the Hamptons, to a home sporting a sun-kissed expanse of pool, as the mother of a toddler, the pristine blue waters darkened with danger. The pool meant eternal vigilance, promised my days would be spent in a sensible Speedo, chasing my son around the deck and arming him with yellow plastic swimmies and SPF 80.
As he grew, I measured my son's development into a young man by the differences in our pool approaches. While I prefer bikini-lounging on a deck chair, only daring to dip a French-pedicured toe into the shallow end if the temperature tops 100, my son and his friends plunge in head first. At 13, my son today is the polar opposite of myself at that age.
While I, like so many teenage girls, had seen the pool as an accessory, a backdrop to the sweet romances destined to evolve poolside, to my son and his crew, the sparkling water symbolizes adventure. When I turn my back for a second and head into the house for some water, I return to find the trampoline dragged over to the edge, the boys using the skimmer to pole-vault into the center of the deep end.
And he's not alone. I've heard war stories from other parents about sons who've built ramps, all the better for barreling their BMX bikes, a la Evil Knievel, across the pool. Must be a guy thing.
Here's a thought: Maybe we girls should take a lesson, think less about the pool as a backdrop for romance and the right bikini, and instead, perceive those pristine depths as a metaphor for life. Maybe young women should spend less time lounging around poolside, waiting for boys to stop their antics and notice them, and instead, dive right in, embracing life and making memories.
Profound? Perhaps. Or maybe I've just been out in the sun too long. Because daring as those boys may seem, what they're doing is downright dangerous. And in a story as old as time, it is we mothers who have always stood at the ready to reel in our children, making sure they don't dive into the deep end and do irreparable damage.
And so, I'll stick to my deck chair. And though I'm no longer a giggly preteen, lazy summer days still evoke a sense of anticipation. This is, after all, the Hamptons. You never know who might pop by the pool. Maybe The Boss is in town. . . .