The other day I took my just-turned-two year old twin boys to a new YMCA branch for the first time. I had looked into all of the amenities of all the local branches, and saw that this one had an awesome outdoor splash park, and after looking at pictures of the facility (and noticing that there was a huge fence around the splash park. My gosh I love fences.) I determined that I could probably manage it without any of us being seriously hurt if I took them by myself. So, I put on their swim clothes and loaded them into the car for another new adventure–just the three of us.
This is something that happens often–this experimenting with new environments. There are some places that I would NEVER return, some that I would only return with another set of helping hands, and some that turn out to be our regular “spots.” The hard thing about this, though, is that there always has to be a “first trip.” And, going in, you never quite know what to expect.
You see, it turns out that toddlers can be rather unpredictable.
This trip to the YMCA started out wonderfully. After loading them from the car into the double stroller, I walked up to the building and saw an automatic door button that joyfully flung open both doors–which made entry into the building a breeze. (Unless you have ever had to push a double stroller around, you might not understand the depths of joy that this brings to my heart.) I walked inside and handed the greeter our YMCA membership cards, she scanned them, and then walked with me to the entrance of the spray park, opening all the doors on the way.
“This is going great!” I thought to myself.
When we made it to the spray park and I let the boys out of the stroller, I quickly realized that they weren’t interested in being in the water. At. All. Water was of satan, and to be avoided at all costs. I then decided that I would bring them inside to the pool (where there was an ankle-deep area with large climbing toys) to try to let them get acclimated to the water. Maybe that would ease them into the splash park.
I brought them inside, and put a huge life jackets on each of them. We were the only ones in the pool area, but there was a young lifeguard sitting on the chair right beside the ankle-deep area, giving me a concerned look the entire time as I buckled their crotch straps and guided them toward the water.
“This is ok, right?” I asked him as we waddled toward the water, a boy holding each hand, confused about why he looked so concerned.
“Yes, it’s fine as long as they are in their lifejackets and you are with them. But can you put red bracelets on them, because they haven’t passed their swim test? They are over there (pointing all the way across the room) in that box.”
I started walking with one boy holding each hand, away from the water and along the edge of the pool, when both soon realized that I was walking AWAY from the fun stuff and went “jelly legged”(yes, I’m pretty sure that’s the scientific term for it) and stood there hunched over with two babies basically dangling from one arm for a moment, as I tried to keep myself from asking the young man if it was 100% necessary to get these coveted red bracelets since we were the only ones in the pool. Surely he could remember that the only ones in the pool hadn’t passed the swim test. And the fact that they can’t even talk yet and look like babies might be a good indicator of that as well, but I don’t know, I’m not a lifeguard.
As I stood there with my little arm anchors flailing on the concrete, I did the only thing that I could think to do–a move that I have mastered over the last two years, but was made much more difficult by the puffy life jackets they were wearing–the double arm scoop. I picked up both boys and carried them under each arm screaming and flailing ever-toward the bucket of red bracelets. When we surprisingly arrived in one piece, I got two bracelets out and attempted to put them on their tiny wrists, which was clearly almost impossible. I got one on, and the moment that I turned to put the other one on, the first boy had already ripped his off. So I tried again. And again. Finally after a few times, I got them on their wrists and grabbed their braceleted hands quickly before they could remember they were wearing RED SHACKLES OF DEATH around their wrists and started walked back toward the pool.
We had made it. We were still alive.
I walked into the water with them, the water barely up to their ankles at this point, and I sat down next to them in the water and started to splash water onto their little legs and arms. The lifeguard stared at us as if we were in imminent danger, and something about his stare told me that that he wished we weren’t there.
“Are you sure that this is ok? Because we can get out if this makes you uncomfortable.” I asked him again, as I felt the heat of his stare bearing down on us.
He again insisted that it was fine, as long as I was there with them in the water.
As we were playing in the water together (me sitting in the water next to them) one quickly darted out of the water and onto the bank of the pool, running toward the deep end, if no one caught him, the other was just standing frozen in the water acting like he had been cemented in one place. I looked up and saw that the life-guard was literally 5 feet from the boy next to me in the water, and seeing that the boy in the water would have to go pretty far out into the pool to be in danger, I made a decision to chase the boy that was darting away. I grabbed him pretty quickly by the arm and walked back toward the other boy, who had somehow in the last 5 seconds magically gained the courage to walk out a little deeper into the water, about waist deep on him, but enough to where the bottom of the HUGE life jacket picked him up and made him lose his footing. I was literally back in the water, maybe 8 feet away from him when I saw him bob a little bit as he lost his footing, his head and chest never even getting a drop of water on it, completely protected by the life jacket.
I then saw the lifeguard quickly and dutifully bound from his seat and run for my son and pick him up, even though I may have been closer to him than the lifeguard had been when it happened. I was a little confused by why he had felt the need to do it, but I thanked the lifeguard for grabbing him, and made sure that I didn’t let go of either of their hands while we played in the water for a few more minutes. I didn’t want to make the lifeguard get his ankles wet again.
A couple of minutes later, a woman came out of the office and patted the young man on the back and congratulated him on his “first save.” I couldn’t help but chuckle a little at this, because my son had on a huge life jacket and never even got close to the water even touching his neck, much less his face. But I was glad that he took his new job so seriously. I would let him count it as his “first save” if he wanted to. Even though, I thought that might have been a million percent dramatic.
A few minutes later, another woman with a clip-board come up to me as we were exiting the pool to go back out to the splash park, and she asked me to which child the “incident” had occurred. I was actually confused for a moment. I didn’t realize that any time the lifeguard helped somebody out by partially stabilizing a child in waist-deep water (two-year old, waist-deep water, not adult waist-deep) was considered an “incident” worthy of reporting, but alas I guess it was. I told her his name, and mine, and just laughed it off. I figured that since nobody had actually seen the incident, all they knew was that the lifeguard left his stand, and that was an incident that needed reporting.
But inside, I couldn’t help but think that he was in more danger of hurting himself by flailing out of my arm onto the concrete from the double-arm scoop when you forced us to put on red-bracelets then he was in the “incident”. But ok. Whatevs. I’ll let the kid get his glory.
Pretty much realizing at this point that the lifeguard WASN’T comfortable with us being in the water at all inside, we went back outside to try out the splash park again. The boys played in the water this time and were having a blast! A few minutes into playing and the lifeguards traded places again, and the splash park lifeguard was now the same lifeguard that had “saved” my son.
The boys wandered over to where I was storing their bag, and started “foraging” (that’s what I call looking for food in the diaper bag) so I grabbed an apple out of their bag that I had already cut in half and got them to sit in chairs as they ate it. The lifeguard gave us a stare again, like we were doing something wrong, so I asked him again.
“I’m sorry, we’ve never been here before, is it ok for them to eat out here?” I asked, trying to get him to just STOP LOOKING AT US LIKE THAT.
“Yeah, it’s totally fine.” he said.
My boys finished their apple and headed back to play in the splash park again, as I played with them for about an hour. Well, if you call chasing them and telling them to “SIT ON YOUR BOTTOM” “TAKE TURNS” “DON’T LICK THAT” and “THAT’S NOT YOURS” a million times “PLAYING together” then we were totes playing together. But I was about to pull my hair out. I decided to force them to take a break (mostly for my sanity) and we went back to our bag for a drink. I realized that they didn’t have any water in their cups, so I pulled two pouches of applesauce out of their bag and gave them to them.
It was at this fateful moment that the lifeguards swapped places again. The guard that came in this time was obviously more experienced and as soon as he walked out of the building and saw my boys sucking on their go-go squeezes he declared loudly:
“Whoa, Whoa, they can’t have that out here. Food is not allowed.”
I told him that the other lifeguard had told me that it was ok, and he said “He’s new. He doesn’t know any better.”
Ok then. I took the pouches away from the boys (they were empty by now anyway) and put them back in my bag. Trying not to say anything. I then made sure to try to pick up the pieces of apple peeling that the boys had thrown on the ground pre-revelation of the “no food” rule–lest we be scorned again. The boys took off again into the park, and I followed them.
We “played” again for another hour or so, and I realized that it was about time to leave. I grabbed the boys and brought them back over to the stroller, and figured that I should take their shorts and swim-shirts off (leaving on their swim diapers) before I set them back in the stroller so that they wouldn’t get the stroller so wet. They kept running out of my reach and I kept having to pick one up to go grab the other my the arm. I would normally use food as a bribe to get one to sit still so that I could deal with the other, but that wasn’t an option for me at this point. I finally got one boy to sit in a chair, and I found a toy in my bag and gave it to him, hoping that it would get him to sit still for long enough for me to take his brother’s clothes off and get him into the stroller. I grabbed the other boy, and quickly pulled his swim shirt off, and before I could even get it over his head the lifeguard spoke again.
“Whoa, you aren’t planning on changing them out here, are you?”
I sighed. And said “No, I’m leaving them in their diapers. I just wanted to take their outer clothes off so I wouldn’t get the stroller soaked on the way to the locker room.”
He didn’t say anything.
I finally got both boys into their diapers and strapped into the stroller with a towel underneath them. I started gathering our things and turned the stroller around and started pushing them toward the door. When the lifeguard spoke again.
“Ma’am, there are some apple pieces under this chair, can you pick those up before you leave.”
I stopped. Locked the stroller, and walked back and picked up the couple of pieces of allusive apple peels that I had obviously missed, put them in the cupholder on the stroller, and walked back inside, where I was greeted by the woman with the clipboard again.
She said “Thanks for coming in today. Is your little boy ok?”
And at this point, and i sighed, and said in a tone that I probably wouldn’t be proud of, “He’s fine. Thanks.”
The whole way back to the locker room and out to the car I kept thinking of why the whole experience had frustrated me so much. I wasn’t upset because they were enforcing the rules, I know that I don’t expect special treatment. I don’t expect for the rules to just “not apply” to me because I have two young children in tow. No, it wasn’t because of the rules, or even the fact that the lifeguards were being awfully “strict” on the rules.
I realized that the reason that the whole experience had been so frustrating was because it was as if the lifeguards and the woman with the clipboard had no understanding that I was trying my hardest to provide my kids with a fun experience, and that I had no intention of breaking any rules. Instead of realizing that I was trying my hardest, and not intentionally doing things that we weren’t supposed to do, or that would make them nervous (in the case of the slightly over-zealous new lifeguard), I felt that they simply wished that we weren’t there. That simply the presence of a mom with two children that don’t understand words yet was making their jobs (and lives) SO much more difficult.
And it was tangible.
So, here’s my conclusion. There are tons of things that you can do for a mom (or dad, or nanny, or grandparent) that is struggling in public with their kids. You can open doors for them. You can let them cut in line when their kids are obviously TOTALLY DONE with the shopping trip at hand. You can pick up their kid’s sippy cup that they threw on the floor for the thousandth time after being told not to.
Yes, there are tons of nice things that you can do to help us out in the thick of it.
But, truly the best thing that you can possibly do for the struggling mom, is to simply understand that she is struggling.
The best thing that you can do is to find it in your heart to understand that she is out in public doing whatever she is doing with her children for a reason, and that their presence, however more difficult it might make your job, or however unpleasant it might make your experience, she most assuredly has a really good reason to be there.
The best thing that you can do is to recognize the fact that SHE recognizes the fact that her crew might need a little extra attention then the average folks, and that it isn’t her intention to make your life more difficult.
The most helpful thing that you can do for her in the thick of the screaming, flailing, and tantruming, is to understand and celebrate the fact that, ultimately, she is only trying to be the best mom that she can be.
(Even if it totally looks like she is basically dragging them along for the ride under flailing jelly-legs.)