I want to let you all in on a parenting method I developed without even knowing it. Forget the Tiger Mother or the Fabulous French Way of Parenting (or whatever it’s called) – this one blows the rest out of the water. Literally.
Let me explain.
Growing up, I believed in and worshiped gods and goddesses. In fact, I spent time around gods and goddesses. As much time as I possibly could. At least during the summer.
I didn’t need to put them on a pedestal because they had built-in ones -- those sun-bronzed, baby-oiled lifeguards at the local pool held court from their platform chairs, rain or shine. From the time I was 8 and a good enough swimmer to be at the pool by myself, these teenage deities were my role models, and objects of admiration and awe – the guys were crush-worthy but untouchable; the girls, beyond beautiful.
And no one questioned their authority. They were the kings and queens of all they surveyed…within the pool fence, anyway. If only I could be like them someday…
So I knew, from an early age, exactly what my first summer job was going to be. It was quite obviously my destiny. I couldn’t imagine a better job, one that paid you to be in and around a pool, in the sun, every day – something I joyfully did for free anyway. As soon as I turned 15, I took the lifesaving course and…five summers later, I was still guarding.
Yes, there were summers when I felt fleeting guilt or jealousy about the summer jobs my cohorts had -- “real” jobs at malls or in offices that would look better on their resumes, even though they meant living under fluorescent light all summer. But by mid-summer I became (at least in my mind’s eye) the epitome of those gods and goddesses of my childhood, browned and blonder, the sunlight seeping into my skin and bones, warming me at least partway through the fall and winter. By then, I no longer cared about my resume…sigh.
And could my friends say their jobs were half as important as ensuring people didn’t die?
Anyway, the point in telling you all this? Here goes:
In being a lifeguard, I learned how to be a parent. Granted, I also babysat, but all my best stuff is from those summers spent as the Goddess of the Pool.
Call me Lifeguard Mom.
Top Ten Parenting Tips from Lifeguard Mom -- the cutting edge, water-based form of parenting:
- The Goddess of the Pool. Everyone, especially children, but even other adults, are aware that inside the pool fence the lifeguard is the absolute authority. The lifeguard’s job is literally to guard lives, ensure swimmer’s safety while at the pool and keep chaos to a minimum.
- Break! Kids need to sit out from swimming furiously for a little bit, take a break by themselves, or they could get overtired and start to drown. Lifeguards and adults at the pool also need this break from focusing on the kids, to take time to take a few laps with the other adults in the scenario.
- Black and white rules. They’re as clear as the sign on the pool fence -- follow the rules or you sit out for 10. Break the rule three times and you’re out for the day.
- Kids need to prove they’re ready for the deep end. They need to pass the swimming test before they go where they can’t stand up. It’s up to them to decide when they want swim a lap unaided, but going out of their depth before they’re ready can be deadly.
- The older the swimmer, the less oversight they need. Okay, I generalize here because there are plenty of adults who can’t swim at all, but for the purposes of this extended metaphor, you know what I mean.
- Set pool hours. Swimming pools have rigid schedules – opening and closing are the same time every day so swimmers know exactly what to expect, which minimizes or eliminates fussing, whining or delay tactics.
- No smoking, alcohol consumption or drug use in the pool area. This is self-explanatory.
- Believe it or not, the people at the pool look up to you. And not just because you are sitting in a tall chair -- so try to act accordingly. This is similar to the Goddess of the Pool rule, but has more to do with how you comport yourself.
- Lifeguards should enjoy their time in the sun. Hours of relative boredom, dirty bathrooms, dead baby mice/frogs in the gutters and screaming children can seem tough at times, but consider the alternatives – fluorescent lights, files, uncomfortable work clothes – and be grateful.
- You can build your resume later. Those offices can and will wait. They’ll be there when summer is over. The little people at your pool need you now, but won’t always.
You see what I mean? I could go on, but then I’d be giving this amazing information away for free, when my goal here is to land a contract with a big publishing house that will fund my research into this method, which will require a lot of poolside sunbathing…er…scientific observation.
In all seriousness, I think there’s a little something to the Lifeguard Mom idea, at least while you are parenting younger children. Because like all good things, summer, lifeguarding and parenting – even if you don’t see this while you are in them -- can’t last forever. As my own daughters have become teenagers, I see the brief, but shining summer of their childhoods nearing an end, approaching a time when they will no longer need me to guard their lives quite so fiercely. They are starting to want to dive into the next phase of their lives, asking me to let them go beyond the glittering, confined space over which I had almost complete control.
Each time they go further and further from me, but come back mostly unscathed, I try to let go a little more.
There’s a final Lifeguard Mom rule…for the Lifeguard Mom:
- Close down at the end of summer and prepare for the next season. Once the swimmers have left your pool area on the last day of that last season, drain the pool, lock the fence and move on to the next phase in your own life.
And try not to look back, because a pool without swimmers or water is a very sad thing.