Always Real, Parenting Gone Awry, Sometimes Tart

The Swimming Pool

Recently Sean and I were at our neighborhood pool making the most of a late summer afternoon.  Sean is still not a confident swimmer.  Swimming is just one of those things that he is going to have to come to terms with at his own pace.  I have come to accept that.  I have learned and backed off.  The most I do now is  encourage him to experiment more, to be more adventurous.  To this he firmly says, “No danks!”  No. Way. And we leave it at that.

After we had been at the pool for awhile, another family showed up with a little boy who is a full year younger than Sean, but a better swimmer.  He has a beefier build.  He’s more boisterous and aggressive; he’s one of those little guys who love to rough house and punch and karate kick and that kind of thing.  That’s all well and good, but it’s not our style.  Sean and his daddy rough house, but our policy is that you don’t put your hands on other people.

The other boy wanted to play with Sean, and at first Sean was interested, but it wasn’t long before he grew weary of being punched.  A couple of times I saw Sean stiff arm him and say “Stop it!” but I figured it was a good opportunity for Sean to work it out for himself so I stayed out of it.  Although honestly?  I really wanted to go over and kick some four-year-old butt.  I’m not proud of that, but it’s true.

At one point, I looked over at Sean and we locked eyes.  I could see he was looking for a rescue.  “Dude! Come here for a minute,” I called.  It gave him a dignified out and he came over to splash around with me on the steps of the big pool. For 38 seconds.

Then the little guy followed.  He did cannon balls within inches of Sean.  He shoved Sean off the steps.  He continued to try to agitate him.  Sean tried to politely ignore him to no avail. Finally he resorted to going underwater to get some peace.  At this point, the little boy grabs Sean around the waist and holds him under water. Right in front of me.

Big. Mistake.

Sean thrashes and panics.

I look over at the mother and she is reading a magazine and talking on her phone. She is oblivious.

At that moment, the ire of every mother bear that ever existed rose in my chest and filled my throat.  It’s a feeling that I can’t really describe. I wasn’t mad so much as stirred by something primal. And frankly, that kind of scared me.

I bent over and pulled the boy off of Sean, and as I am setting him on the edge of the pool, I whisper a warning in his ear — but the voice that rumbles out of my throat is not mine but Darth Vader’s.  “Keep. Your. Hands. Off. My. Boy.”

“Or I will hurt you.” No, I didn’t say that part, but I was surely thinking it.

I give him a look that makes it clear that I mean business.  He stares back at me with eyes as big as pancakes.  I narrow my eyes like Clint Eastwood to punctuate my point. He gets up and wanders over to his mother.

And I wish I could say that was that. But that was not that.

He continued to come back and pester us.  So we called it a day and went home.

So then, no tidy moral of the story other than don’t mess with my kid and no happy ending other than I am not writing this from jail.

53 thoughts on “The Swimming Pool

  1. I blame the mother for not correcting her child.

    I remember the swimming challenge from last summer. Sounds like you have worked out a good plan. He will someday be comfortable swimming. Remember, blowing bubbles with their noses into their cupped hands in the bathtub is a great way to introduce them to how to go under water and keep water from getting in their noses. Air going out means water can’t go in. It also gets them ready for breathing in thru the mouth and out thru the nose when doing the crawl or freestyle. I think I mentioned last yr that I used to give Red Cross swimming lessons, and I love to help people learn to swim. Being afraid of getting water in their noses causes even adults to stiffen up and interferes with relaxing, which helps floating and swimming.

    * * * *
    As far as the mother not correcting the child, that’s just the nature of interacting with the public these days. I expect it. My idea (and AD’s idea) of what constitutes proper public behavior doesn’t seem to line up with that of the general public. ~AM

  2. I’ve been there. And I agree that it’s kind of scary how intense the mother bear feeling is. But it also feels good because it’s such a clear strong feeling. You feel kind of invincible… well, until the other parent comes over. Then it gets more complicated.

    My son was a so-so swimmer until he joined the swim team at about age 7. They work on their strokes and hopefully it’s fun. I’d recommend it if Sean’s willing and there’s a swim team nearby.

  3. I would have done the SAME exact thing to that little turd. I can’t stand when parents ignore their children’s bad behavior.

  4. Oh, my word! My heart just about stopped when I read the part when the bully held Sean underwater! And I know you did just the right thing. Remember, God made us mothers, and just like a mama bear, He gave us those primal instincts to protect our child at all costs. You did what you were supposed to do…and then you were Christ-like in how you handled the rest of the situation. 🙂
    Good for you to keep encouraging Sean to learn to swim. He may never be totally comfortable in water, but at least he’ll know what to do in it. (Here in AZ, we stress pool safety a ton.)

  5. It is indeed scary when a part of you takes over to protect your kid you didn’t really even know about. We had an “issue” with a kid bothering my daughter, and I was astounded by the protective emotion and the wrath it induced in me. The kid has since moved (an answer to prayer) 🙂

  6. I bet that kid struggles to get attention from his parent/s! I am so glad to hear that you are “hands on” parents, and enjoy interacting with your boy, compared to some parents who seem to see their child as a nuisance! I am not a parent myself but I hope and pray that when I am I can show my child/ren as much love as you show yours!

  7. Glad you’re not in jail! 😉

    It really burns me that the only way to gracefully deal with 99% of the problem people is to retreat, when by all rights it should be them going away. Another justification for my living like a hermit whenever possible!

  8. “The ire of every mother bear…” Oh, BOY, do I know that feeling! My adult children tease me that every child we come in contact with knows that I am an elementary school teacher. I find myself in stores giving misbehaving children The Teacher Look and it stops them in their tracks without a word. And child’s Mom is totally oblivious. I think you did pool boy a favor by showing boundaries.

  9. Life is like throwing your kid in a big fishtank and watching him survive amongst predators.
    Sometimes, I want to remove my little fishie and drain the tank. You know, put him in a tank with minnows, just like himself.

  10. I have a confession to make. When my kids were little, I did not like going to the pool. Oh, we went – every. day. But I didn’t enjoy it because I didn’t sit around reading magazines and visiting with my friends. I sat and watched my children. It’s a new concept to some mothers, I know.
    If you send my your inmate ID number, I’ll be sure and write. Also our church takes up collections for a prisoner so he’ll have canteen money so if you’re in need…..

  11. Glad to hear you’re not locked up! You’re too pretty for prison! LOL! Those mother bear instincts are strong, and they don’t go away. My boys are 13 and 20, and there are times I still have to check myself and let them deal with their own stuff.

  12. the child makes me sad…if mama would give him a moment, he would not do this…your attentiveness was probably the best part of his day sadly…you are your childs best advocate..

  13. We’ve encountered many situations similar to this. As you said, given today’s world, it’s to be expected if you’re in a public place with children.

    When my child gives me the “Help Me!” look, I now go over and say kindly to the other child, “You know buddy? I don’t think he like that much. It’s not very nice. And if you want to play with him, everyone needs to be nice.”

    I would say 9 times out of 10, the child responds. (And sometimes, the that parent will look up at that point and get involved.) But sometimes, it doesn’t work. So we distance ourselves lest I go kung-fu on a child.

    (Although some great works of literature were written in prison, now that I think about it.)

  14. OMG. The parents that leave their kids alone, unattended at pools. It mortifies me. Not only could that boy have been hurt, had you not been YOU, Sean could have been hurt as well.

    I’ve used harsh words with others children when I’ve needed to. The last time? My son and his friends were 15 and did something very stupid. I looked right at the agitator and told him he was an idiot. I dealt with my own kid in private – but I did a lot of “how dare you” right to every kid’s face.

    You had every right. That mother should be ashamed of herself.

  15. When I was a nanny I always was right there for the boys I was responsible for. I used to see the moms on the side lines not paying any attention to their children and I never understood it. Now I am a mom and I still don’t get it. Yes I would love to chat and read a book but at a pool? Dangerous and stupid.

  16. That mama bear is hunkered down in all of us and I think it’s a good thing. I always think about the image of how Jesus is my tough Big brother and my advocate. Everyone needs an advocate. And moms get the role for a time in our children’s lives. You have more wisdom by far than the average mom! (And self-restraint too – LOL)

  17. Oh, wow, yeah, I can TOTALLY see myself reacting MUCH sooner than you did!!! And also adding the line about, “I will kill you!” Sorry your day didn’t end up as you would’ve liked. 🙁 That ‘mother bear’ instinct really is something, isn’t it???

  18. Grrrrrr… from one mama bear to another.
    So disappointing to see what happens to children who have not been taught proper boundaries and respect. Been there so many times, and you think to yourself- “this kid not only needs a whoopin’- but probably, more so than that,- just some proper love and attention”.

  19. additional comment– about the swim team idea–
    My son was put in events he wasn’t ready for because they needed more swimmers in those events to get more points. He had to swim the length of the pool before he was ready. At one meet, he and we wondered if he was going to make it the length of the pool, sputtering in the deep. He didn’t want to be in it after that year. I’m just giving you a clue that not in every case does it promote a love of swimming. Our son can swim, but he doesn’t really enjoy swimming. Our daughter absolutely loves it.

  20. Nothing agrivates me more as a non-parent then someone who is blessed with a child and ignores them to the point that they are a menance to other children and parents. Grrrr. Don’t have the kid if you can’t be responsible enough to make sure that he doesn’t injure himself or another from the plain simple fact that the kid doesn’t know any better. And while I’m add it…what happened to teaching children manners. Geez.

  21. I think somebody should do a study on these “little turd” children to figure out the “chicken or the egg” thing with them. Are they “little turds” because their mothers sit there reading a magazine and ignoring their bad behavior, thus making them act out more to try to garner attention? Or do their mothers sit their reading a magazine because they have reached a point of such exhaustion about telling them to stop that they have simply given up and choose to ignore it? Hmmm.

  22. Sounds like this boy has not been given the time and attention he deserves from his parent so that he can learn the rules of life. I’ve seen this so often in my years of working with young children. I know my boy just couldn’t handle these kinds of kids when he was younger: he didn’t like to be jumped on and rough housed all the time. I rescued him at times, too. It’s hard to not turn all protective about your kid- that’s our basic instinct.

  23. You say you’re not writing this from jail, but we don’t KNOW that for sure, do we? I bet they let you take your laptop into jail these days.

    I had the same feeling a couple of days ago when my oldest told me that a kid had been teasing him for his name. The name I carefully chose 12 years ago, as being totally and utterly and completely teaseproof. The name I chose from the top 10 when all the rest of the world was trying to be original and different, with unusual spellings. The name that is easy to pronounce, easy to spell, not modern, not old-fashioned, accepted everywhere, with an easy short form. The name that honestly couldn’t be easier to live with. Because I’d been teased as a child for having an odd name.

    Oh yes, the mummy bear was here too.

  24. Oh, how I empathize with Sean! I was a slow swimmer because I disliked (and still do) chilly water, water in my face, and being harassed by more, er, boisterous kids. My mom eventually got private lessons for me from the pool manager, who happened to be a member of our congregation. We worked at my pace, concentrating on strokes where my face didn’t have to get wet, and it helped a lot. The crawl was extra credit. I’m still not crazy about swimming, but I can if I have to, and I don’t mind doing the sidestroke in a nice private (and heated) pool now and then. And kudos for standing up to that kid! I think you showed great restraint. Sean is lucky to have you as his mom.

  25. Ohhhhh! I so remember swim days like this. You were the wise one. Me, not so much. Not only did I whisper to the kiddo to leave mine alone, I told the kiddo to head back to his mom and stay there as mine wasn’t going to play anymore. And I glared the Clint Eastwood look too.

  26. Don’t you just hate parents who DON’T.
    Don’t parenting is the style and has been for awhile. Makes me wonder why they bothered to have kids!

  27. Wow. Another voice chiming in here about being glad you didn’t let the claws come out. And I’m also very impressed that you’ve been able to teach your son to roughhouse without crossing the line. I never cease to be amazed at what a great little man you have.

  28. We had a situation very similar to this recently at our community pool. The boy, who happened to be older than our children, stuck to us like glue.

    I was friendly and allowed him to play with our toys, but he was rough and his guardian was totally oblivious. When he wasn’t splashing and thrashing, he was going in to great detail about horror movies and anything involving blood, gore and death. These are topics our 4-yo triplets have NO knowledge of and I’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible.

    Eventually, I loaded the kids up and we left. Not just because it was time to go home, but because I’d had enough.

    When I wrote about this topic on my blog, several people slammed me because I didn’t take it up with the guardian and I allowed a child to drive me away from the pool.

    Sure, it was time for us to go. But we might not have left so soon if not for that brat incident.

    Oh, how I wish that people would do a better job watching their kids in public places so that strangers aren’t harassed and feel the need to defend themselves. Or vacate the premises.

    When people stand up for themselves – or their children – it inevitably happens that they stand the risk of creating a scene by telling mommy (or daddy or sitter) that they need to PUT DOWN THEIR MAGAZINE and HANG UP THEIR CELL and pay attention to the child. So yes, sometimes it IS easier to just leave.

  29. Be patient with swimming. My daughter, at age 11, is finally an adequate swimmer despite taking swim lessons every summer.

    I think as a parent it is hard not to compare our children’s development with every other child. But we mustn’t. They are individual creatures who do things when they are ready and able.

    I think your reaction was great. I’m afraid I would have lost my cool!

  30. I’ve seen the magazine-reading-cell-phone-talking mom at the pool a thousand times, and it really drives me crazy. (I lost my brother to drowning when I was young, so swimming is a MUST at our house.) One time, as I was sitting on the edge of the baby pool watching my own kids, one little boy started struggling and looked at me with wide eyes that said, “Help!” I reached in and pulled the boy out, then said, “Where’s your mom?” She was WAAAY on the other side of the pool, reading a magazine. ARGH!

  31. oh good grief! How did you keep your calm? Who takes their eyes off a 4 yr old in a pool. I don’t care if they can swim.
    I would have to have said something…and I would have said, “or I WILL hurt you”

  32. It is mothers of these types that are ALWAYS on the cell phone when they pick up their kids from school (what a way to say to your kids, “hey, talking to YOU at the end of a school day is NOT as important as this cell phone call”)or they cannot drive to the local grocery store without having a movie in the van DVD player….these kids are starved for attention and so they do all the wrong things to get it, because that is all they know. Really sad. But no excuse to bully another kid. Grinds me no end.

  33. I would bail you out of jail! And I would have done the same thing. Something about the mother instinct thing just kicks in and watch out.

  34. I am not a mother to anything that has under 4 legs and even I bristled at your story! First of all, there are so many accidents at pools because people assume that someone else is watching their child — second of all, what must that child be learning at home if he thinks that the only way to get attention is to bully?! I am so inspired by you and I hope that I am like you one day!

  35. When kids bullied my daughter at a Church school, middle school if I remember, I told her to fight back and if she got into trouble and was kept after school, I would bring her an ice cream cone. Well, she was pinched, left a bruise, on her arm and I called the person, said if she or any one else gave my daughter a hard time, I would tell the principal, the priest and her mother. My daughter was sorry I did that, but drat, no one hurts my kid on my watch. Humph.

  36. I get so frustrated when I am forced to parent other people’s children becuase they don’t seem to have the energy. I am not talking about the occasional missing of your kid doing something inappropriate. I have been there many times and hope that other parents give me grace, but I also know that there are parents who know their children are prone to aggression and chose to play like they don’t see because they just want to get out of the house. I empathisize, but get your kid off my kid. Ain’t no mama like a mama bear who’s kid is getting messed with. It is amazing how much anger one can feel towards a preschooler.

  37. I am so angry for you! I’d like to kick 4 year-old’s mother’s butt. Seems like Negligent Mommy is raising a little bully.

  38. I feel your mama bearness too. I’ve been there many times myself. But do you know what else I read in your entry? You were teaching your boy that sometimes the ONLY way to handle a situation is to LEAVE it. That the situation and people are not playing by the same rules and that further investment of your time and energy is not desirable. In other words, when to cut your losses and accept that the time has come to end the thing.

  39. ok i have to jump in here to defend cell phone mom slightly…
    we do allow our kids to rough house and i have never intentionally been more than 10 feet from them at the pool but yanno yesterday I was in the pool with them and holding the 6 month old when the life guard had to dive in over me to fish out my 5 y/o. he had gone to the bathroom and jumped in intending to show off and swim to me, but didnt tell me he was getting back in so my eyes were on 6 y/o showing me how he could swim and completly missed 5 y/o.
    it happens.
    i do take a magazine to the pool many times and sit w/ my feet in the pool and babe next to me and the older two within a few feet. but i have been known to answer a phone call or two particularly after my husband had been in a very bad car accident 1400 miles from home and i was preg unable to travel and having to deal with all of the medical, legal, insurance and him on top of it….and yes there were probably things my kids did at those times that i missed but yanno a quick loud please dont do that where i could hear and i would likely jump in…or let you know how grateful i am because i am at the end of a rope….


  40. Cheryl stole my DH’s favorite line “too pretty to go to jail” so I’ll just second it here! Thanx, it must have been in the air yesterday because we had a few social issues…I’m trying to step back, but it’s hard when others have different parenting styles. Mean words abound, and I’m not so excited about that part of Kindergarten…any pithy or kind posts about such in the future? Happy weekend and HFD to AD!

  41. So frustrating. We have had too many similar experiences. I’ve realized I can’t worry about offending the parents. I have to put my kids’ safety and comfort first. It is experiences like that that can make our kids even more hesitant to get in the water and enjoy it. I hope your next trip to the pool is better.

  42. AM, you are FAAARRRR nicer than I would have been. I would have, oh, maybe DROP-KICKED the little buzzard back over to his mother.

    Ok, no I wouldn’t have. I guess I should not be surprised at the lack of supervision from the mom. It really makes me sad. Kids are dying for their parents to interact with them. That kiddo sure needed some attention (maybe a hand on his hiney attention…). Ok, here I go again…

  43. When I was a nanny, it seemed like parents not minding their own children was the norm. The park, the playscapes, the children’s museum, the pool, the sand box, everywhere. Usually they were nowhere near and chatting with other parents. Unbelievable. I always gave verbal warnings to other children if their parents did not step in, even if parents were close, in any situation we were involved in or were close to. If their behavior was bad enough to require discipline like a time-out I would even walk them back to their parents. On the flip side, if they did nice things I would compliment them too and later on tell their parents that they did a good job so they could encourage them as well. My only concern was with the child that I was responsible for, and part of that was to make sure they were treated with equality and respect. (These kids were all under 8 yrs, they were still learning right behavior by copying others. Maybe if they were older, I would let them work out some conflicts on their own.) The closest adult to a child is always responsible, no matter where the parents are, especially when they start hurting each other.

  44. Oh! I read back up, and didn’t realize they were only 4! Everytime you talk about Sean he sounds much older. Yes, 4 yr olds should never play unattended at the pool together. I would have stepped in from the start, and try to guide them to play together nicely. You can’t hold a 4 year old responsible for his own behavior, that’s the age when they are starting to figure out peer and group relationships. If parents aren’t around, I would set the same rules as for your own child, three verbal warnings, and back to your Mom you go! (If you take him back often enough, the Mom would have to be involved, or leave).

  45. I love reading your blog because I so often see myself in it. (I’m not as narcissistic as that sounds–I’m just glad to be in good company!)

    I have taught my little guys to start with telling other kids to “keep your hands to yourself” or (loudly) “Don’t Touch Me!” If they need backup though, I am definitely not averse to correcting someone else’s child–especially when the someone else is not available (or not interested enough) to do it themselves.

    And when it comes to something that’s a genuine issue of safety like unwanted rough-housing in the water, after my child was safe, the mom would have gotten a heads up too. And maybe the management of the pool…and then I’d have had to leave before I got thrown out.

  46. I think you have a great moral! Spend time with your children and they will grow up to be conscientious, non-aggressive citizens of the world! (That, and not threatening children – even those who deserve it – will keep you out of jail!) 🙂 I love your blog and always have a great time reading about your Sean adventures. Too bad the mother of that little monster doesn’t pay as much attention to her child.

  47. AM, That little boy at the pool may have won the battle, but he didn’t win the war! Sean is so far ahead of that kid, and it’s because of your gracious parenting!!! I wonder what this momma bear would have done in that situation. You have taught your child to turn the other cheek, even when you don’t or shouldn’t have to. My hat is off to you. Thanks for the reminder.

  48. Oh, I cannot tell you the times I’ve literally choked down the impulse to sucker-punch another 5-year-old. I live in an apartment complex with a large grassy common area, and I am always always the only parent outside (and with Jordan’s autism, and thus, lack of both social skills and the knowledge/ability to “tattle”, we have quite our share of little conflicts).

    These people just let their 4, 5, and 6 year olds free outside ALL DAY. I’ve gotten to the point that I do correct the other kids if whatever they’re doing is a)dangerous, or b)affects me or my son. I’m just waiting for another parent to confront me about it. But, of course, that would require them to leave their caves.

  49. I hope you got your normal voice back. I mean, we LooooooVe us some Darth vader around our house these days, but I bet your voice is much sweeter 🙂

    I used to live on a communal garden, and you would not believe (well, you probably would) some of the parents who just let their kids run wild over all the smaller kids. We took our ball and went home many times. Frankly, if it’s no longer fun… why stay?

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