A Day at the Baby Pool

I hold some tenure at the baby pool. I’m not proud of it. I’ve sat knee deep in toddler urine water, eyes rolling back in my head with my heart in my throat for eleven consecutive summers as my family of three inexplicably (I’m serious, Dad, I have no idea how it happened) grew one by one into a family of six.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned at the baby pool…

When your child is in the baby pool, you sit in the warmest of waters and watch as he mouths the plastic giraffe that a little girl just extracted from her swimmy diaper…the swimmy diaper her Mom is now changing on the grass because it’s full of poop. Poop that has disintegrated into 4000 individual particles. This indicates she pooped on the drive to the pool and has been in the pool wearing that poopy diaper going on 2 hours. So you can expect a raging case of hand, foot, mouth to hit your house by tomorrow. Despite this knowledge, you scramble from the water to offer her Mom an extra diaper because she’s just realized she left all of hers at home.


When your child is in the baby pool, you subject yourself to an oversized, colorful beach ball hitting you upside the head. Thrown not by your son, but by an enthusiastic 3 year old you’ve never met…and then you have a 20 minute catch with said 3 year old. You buy him a popsicle from the snack bar when you buy your kids’ popsicles, because he’s now practically your nephew. You wipe his hands and face after he’s sat on your lap dripping his red popsicle all over your Lands’ End bathing suit…your white Lands’ End bathing suit. You call him Henry, even though his name is Harry, and he answers to it. Between the beach ball, the popsicle, and the fact that he’s nearly impossible to understand, he forgives your mistake.

When your child is in the baby pool, you drink 47 cups of make believe tea with two little girls…one girl pours each of those cups from a lavender Disney Princess tea kettle with painstaking precision. And one girl gives you two lumps instead of one, and milk instead of cream with her tiny, delicate hands for each of those 47 cups. You blow on your last cup of tea just as convincingly as you did your first cup. And the girls giggle just as loudly and earnestly as they did the first time you blew on it.

When your child is in the baby pool, you are nonplussed when a 14 month old who doesn’t share your last name uses your breasts as handles to steady himself as he navigates the slippery floor on two legs still unaccustomed to supporting his weight. You fix his hat, applaud his efforts, call him “sweetheart”, give him your biggest smile, and clutch him against you in a hug after he places a wet, open-mouthed kiss on your unsuspecting lips. A kiss from which you surmise he’s recently eaten hummus.

When your child is in the baby pool, you have an ongoing conversation with another parent whom you’d never be able to identify in a lineup because you’ve made absolutely no eye contact…your eyes are trained on your own children. Or you sit next to another adult, neither of you initiating any conversation, for 6 straight hours…because your eyes are still trained on your own children.

When your child is in the baby pool, you silently curse the 10 year old who splashes in and grabs the Dora kickboard, because where on earth is her mother? She’s entirely too old to be in this pool! Until your own daughter, who’s 10 years old, slips into the baby pool to play alongside her 3 year old brother. And they share a moment of magic. And you’re not ready to tell her to get out of the pool just yet…can’t the magic last a tiny bit longer? How did you not realize back then how young and beautifully innocent a 10 year old still is?

When your child is in the baby pool, you leap from the side of the pool and cover 20 feet in two strides with the grace of a gazelle to grab the little boy who’s just slipped silently under water. Because his Mom has turned away for an instant to drag his screaming older sister out of the pool and put her in time-out for yanking the rubber duck from his hands…and you know she will never get to him in time. You pick him up, hold him protectively against you, and run him over to his Mom. She hears his gagging, reaches for him, meets your eyes, and the look of understanding and appreciation passes between the two of you. Tears spring to her eyes, and unable to find her voice, she mouths the words, “thank you”. Tears then spring to your eyes, you rub his tiny back, squeeze her hand, and turn to resume your watch over your children.

When our children are in the baby pool, we are in it together.

*An abridged version of this piece appeared in the Huffington Post on June 25th in the Parents Section.

30 thoughts on “A Day at the Baby Pool

  1. It is like a club isn’t it…And for those who are lucky enough to “get in” I think it comes with a lifetime membership. I say that because somehow when I am on vacation, and I am talking about the ones without grandkids, still I am the one who is sitting among the littles. Getting the whole tea party experience.
    I love how you brought back so many memories of those years “at the baby pool”.
    Once again, Bethany, you nailed it.

    • Thanks, Debbie! You are a special person to continue to participate in the tea parties…it makes the kids’ day! It’s exhausting. But it is over in a blink.

  2. I have no baby pool experience, as we have never belonged to a pool, but being a mom I can relate similarly to being on the playground. But I have to know. You are one mom, with 4 kids, who are all different ages. How can you watch all your kids when they are in different pools? And knowing that it’s not humanly possible to do so, how do you deal with it? Honestly, I don’t know how all you people with more than 1 child do it. I really don’t!

    • I can’t watch them all simultaneously…even under my own roof. Waldorf and the Kenyan had to earn my trust early in order to get my permission to be in the big pool without me. Luckily, they love to play with each other. And now the Interrogator is in the big pool…he and the Kenyan have a ball together. I have to get the Verb lessons. He scares the daylights out of me. Can’t swim at all, but he’ll walk right up to the big pool and get right in, hanging onto the wall. Don’t get me started. Total panic on my part.

  3. I lol’ed all through til the end when I teared. Another great one Bethany. Here’s to your last year (yes?) in the baby pool.

    • Thanks, Meredith! You’ve been there, so you know my pain! I’m glad you teared…I did too as I was writing it!! Fingers crossed it’s my last year at the baby pool. As much as I complain about it, I know I’ll miss it:(

  4. It is not a wonder to me that you would find fun and beauty in the baby pool. Beautifully written! And, the part about speaking to another mom or dad at the pool while eyes are turned away from them to your child — simply beautiful human nature and understanding. Oh, the exhaustion that comes from watching the little ones in, what we call, the pee pee pool! Happy summer, Bethany!

    • Maryanne, I’m trying to find fun in it! Being in the “pee pee pool” is emotionally tiring, isn’t it? I bet it’s harder for a Mom of a girl since boys are so rough! It’s not uncommon for a Mom of girls to find my children completely appalling. And they are actually fairly well behaved as far as boys go. Thanks for reading!!!

  5. Just home from the baby pool. My youngest is my bravest and so proud of “going under all by mine self”. Happy summer to you! Thank you for your blog, I look forward to each one.

    • Gina, “all by mine self” is priceless! Going under is an enormous accomplishment…and my youngest is my bravest too…and going to give me a full head of gray hair. Thank you so much for reading!

  6. I love this post Bethany. You capture the experience perfectly in all its beautiful irony. Here’s hoping it’s not my last year in the baby pool, but even if it is I’ll have a lifetime of memories.

    • Thank you, Nicole! It is tiring. And filthy. But the innocence of the kids in the baby pool is priceless. I hope it’s not your last year experiencing it! Thanks so much for reading!

  7. Ooohhhh, Bethany, I absolutely love this one. I have graduated from the baby pool but i can still remember all those moments and smile. You did it again! Fabulous! Thank you!

    • Hard to forget the chaos of the baby pool once you have been an active participant…3 times over for you! Thanks, as always, for reading!!! XO

  8. This is our hardest pool year yet…oldest is “allowed” by pool rules to go in the big pool sans parent (although I’m still a bit nervous about this), middle is bored in baby pool but not strong enough swimmer to be in big pool without a grownup and youngest loves the baby pool but wants nothing to do with going in the big pool with me so I can be with middle. So it seems to be a tug-of-mommy the entire time we’re at the pool. That being said, I know that once my baby pool days are over I’ll feel a bit nostalgic about the time spent wading, watching, and chatting with other mammas. Great post!

    • Oh, Elsje (and please let me know how to pronounce your name so I have it right in my head…I am thinking El-see?), you are in the thick of it. I was in the same pickle last summer. My pediatric dentist was thrilled that I chose lollipops as a solution to the dilemma. Because she made some money on the cavities the Verb developed. I would strap him into a stroller, put on the brakes, hand him a lollipop, and jump into the big pool with the Interrogator. There are few things more dangerous than buckling a non swimming child into a seat attached to wheels next to 3 feet of water. With candy on a stick. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Good luck!!! I know your pain!!!

      • Hi! it’s pronounced Elsha. Dutch for Elizabeth – my whole life I’ve gotten used to saying this over and over 🙂 thanks to my mom and dad for blessing me with a different name. And as for being in the thick of it, yup, I am, but I’m also realizing this is the last of our carefree days as my oldest starts K this fall – so I’m trying to enjoy every second of this summer 🙂

        • Elsje, thank you for clarifying! I quizzed my husband at the dinner table last night. “How would you pronounce a name spelled E-L-S-J-E?” His response was, “You’re spelling it wrong.” I love it…it’s beautiful and unique. It’s unbelievable how much more quickly the days go by once the kids are in school. Some days that’s a godsend. Others…it’s just sad.

  9. you always leave me in stitches and put such a hilarious spin on the maddening chaos of everyday. i only have two boys (identical 2 1/2 year olds…wine? yes please!) and feel like i get hit by a mack truck each day. hats off to you! but yes, ill go for a third…because theyre the best, right?

    • Krissy, “only two boys” and “identical twins” do not belong in the same sentence together. I bow down to you. I have been at the shore without my husband for the past two days (with the kids, of course), and I am ready to collapse by 6:30pm. I turned to my sister at the beach today and asked, “are you having fun?” She said, “No. Mom never got out of her chair when we were little. What the hell is wrong with our kids?”

      Thank you so much for reading!

  10. p.s. last night at the baby pool my girlfriends and i successfully fed 6 kids and ourselves for $15 AND enjoyed a cocktail in white styrofoam cups….the new bud light margarita in a can…a keeper:) the best part…no kitchen to clean up after bed time and yes, the baby pool counted as ‘bath’ for the day(s).

  11. I am often on the other end of dirty looks and finger-pointing as my child decides to make the other kids’ pool toys her own (often with the help of her partner in crime, her five year old sister). On a good day (if I look the other way enough), we can save a fortune in floating ducks and blown up balls (KIDDING). Nice job as usual.

    • Ron, it’s bogus if you get looks for that. Amateurs shoot looks at parents of kids who play with toys that don’t belong to them. Any toy brought to the pool=immediate community property. Which is precisely why my brats arrive empty handed. And thank you so much for reading!

  12. Bethany – I love your blog.

    I also have 4 boys. My youngest is 10 months, and this summer is his initiation into the baby pool (hoping his antibodies are kicking in). It is a sometimes terrifying combination of biohazards and questionable parental supervision. But there are lessons to be learned, as you rightly point out.

    For instance, I have become a bit lazy, sun screen-wise, and am happy to let the baby wear a tshirt. Not a swim ensemble, so to speak. I find something very entertaining in watching parents apply a vernix-like coating of sunscreen on their kids. (Possibly the same parents who sit their children in a padded cocoon in the grocery cart?)

    The baby pool might teach all of us that while it’s a great idea to keep your eye on your kids, you can only protect them so much before they look like they’re taking part in an Aboriginal ritual.

    • Marcy, “taking part in an Aboriginal ritual” is priceless! And accurate! We do the rash guards because they cost less at Target than sunscreen does. Boom. Done. I did the cocoon in the grocery cart with my first. Guilty. My 4th sucked on the handle as I pushed the cart. Used it as a teething ring. Healthiest kid in my bunch.

      Thank you so much for reading…and for your hilarious insight!!

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