Today at the pool, I was sitting with Elsa at the edge, trying to keep her from swallowing what is apparently the most delicious water in the history of the world, when Rollie started calling out, "Hey Momma, watch me! Watch me, Momma! Watch me!"
I turned around to indulge my son, preparing to be wowed with a cannonball or an underwater handstand or a triple Lindy flip. Instead I saw him step cautiously from the bottom stair of the pool into the water, where he proceeded to flail his waterwing-clad arms and pedal his legs like Lance Armstrong. I guess that was the trick.
"Wow," I said. "That looked pretty cool, Rol."
"Watch me, Momma, watch!" He splashed and floundered his way back to the steps and steadied himself, ready to perform his trick again. Which he did. And again. And again.
"Wow, Rollie, that is such a neat trick."
"Wow, Rollie, you're awesome."
"Wow. Good one."
"Watch me, Momma!"
"Rollie, I am watching you, Hon."
"Watch, Momma, watch!"
"Rollie, I'm sitting right here. I can see everything you're doing."
"Heeeere I Gooooo!" He kicked and wiggled in the water, his wings keeping him afloat just enough to where he could splash me in the face as he rigorously paddled in place.
"Rollie, careful. I don't want to be splashed right now."
"Why don't you want to be splashed right now?"
"Because the water's cold."
"Why is the water cold?"
As we continued along this course of conversation, in the back of my mind a realization was blooming. This exchange was giving me hardcore deja vu. I had flashbacks of brief, luke-warm New Jersey summers when swimming was a luxury only three months out of the year instead of six. My family and I had a handful of relatives who were actually willing to open their homes and pools to the gaggle of raucous children that was my siblings and I. We descended upon these poor people, dripping chlorinated water all over their guest bathrooms, eating overdone hamburgers and drinking can after can of root beer, belly-flopping and chicken-fighting until our noses were sunburned and our fingertips were pale and shriveled as albino raisins. The adults usually didn't bother swimming with us, likely out of fear that they'd be drowned during a heated game of Sharks and Minnows.
Except my mother. Oftentimes she was the only soul brave enough to venture into the water with a flock of shrieking children churning around amongst the dive rings and faded rafts. She floated in the deep end like a bobber, her water-spotted transition-lenses taking in the activities as the current slowly pushed her around the perimeter of the pool. And because she was the only adult around to impress, she was the sole recipient of my siblings' and my pleas for her to watch our stunts, no matter how inane. And they all were pretty inane.
It must be water. There is something about water that make a trick normally performed on land seem a hundred times better and more interesting in water. A handstand in the middle of your family room is fine and dandy, but a handstand underwater, well, now that'll land you on a box of Wheaties. Spinning in a circle in your front yard is lame-o, but in a swimming pool, spinning in a circle is the most sublimely graceful thing a nine-year-old girl could ever dream of doing.
The only problem with my mother being our sole spectator was that she didn't want to be splashed. She was pretty adamant about this. How I remember begging her to come closer to me so she could see me pantomime and underwater tea party, but she insisted on hovering on the outskirts of the water activities, claiming the she could see me fine from the edge of the pool. Of course, now I know that she was terrified of getting her hair wet. She'd spend hours putting her hair in rollers the night before, and then she'd sleep propped on pillows, her head wrapped in a kerchief to keep everything in place, and when she removed the curlers and teased her hair she emptied an entire can of Aqua Net to freeze the style better than if she had dipped her head in liquid nitrogen. If she got so much as one drop of pool water on her hair it would disintegrate like cotton candy in the rain.
Still I performed somersaults, back-flips, jack-knives, leaping off the diving board over and over, convinced that I was executing each move with olympic precision. And before each trick, a cry:
Mom, Watch Me Watch Me Watch Me!
And after I surfaced, I searched the pool for my mother, certain I'd see a look of dazzled amazement, or possibly her holding up a sign with a 10 scrawled on it. Her response was always a little disappointing:
Wow. Good one.
And now here I am, twenty-five years later. I'm the one who doesn't want to get her hair wet. I'm the one watching the goofy pool tricks as I try to carry on adult conversations. I'm the one with the weak responses to my child's attempts to impress me. I'm the one who prefers to float around the pool than to launch myself from the diving board or play Marco Polo. When did this happen? When did I become the grown-up? When did I start caring more about my hair getting wet than having Who-Can-Hold-Your-Breath-The-Longest competitions? Man, having kids steals certain joys away.
Then again, watching Rollie swim in water wings, his small smile of self-satisfaction as evident as the sunblock on his nose, is a new kind of joy. It's kind of neat being on the other end of the Mom, Watch Me Watch Me Watch Me chant. As long as he doesn't splash my face and ruin my makeup, I'll watch his tricks all day.