Columns

2017.08.02 Guest Column: Travis Heeren

My daughter, Maddie, brings her boyfriend to our house; he leaves with the promise of writing a column. He’s a keeper.

By TRAVIS HEEREN

We’ve certainly had a good stretch of hot, sunny days recently, and if it means something other than ice cream and sunburns, it means that it’s kiddie pool season. Quite appropriate for my column here, I do have a few “pro tips” to offer based upon my many seasons of kiddie pool maintenance: 

First of all, fully filled kiddie pools are remarkably heavy—even the smaller ones—and if you are less than thrilled about the brown crop circles they are wont to leave on your lawn, try periodically moving them around the yard like a grazing buffalo to avoid crushing the grass too badly. If your kiddie pool is too big to move (a tweenie pool? an adolescentie?) you can valuably empty it by bailing out the water for washing cars, pets, and windows, or for simply watering your garden. However, if you suspect that a few bathroom breaks have been had in there, perhaps you ought to restrict your watering to acid-loving plants like hydrangeas or rhododendrons. Also, cheesecloth works great as a pool skimmer, and beach balls are still fun without a beach. 

Aside from the July weather, I have kiddie pools on the mind because I was at the Green residence this past weekend helping to look after the visiting grandchildren, and while they were out splashing around one afternoon, I was struck by something. One of the younger ones, a three-year-old girl, has created for herself a character she likes to play: a baby version of herself. She gets into character by talking in a higher, quieter voice and by moving her ponytail from its usual spot in the back to the front so it includes her bangs and sticks straight up in the air. She asks questions she knows the answers to, talks herself through tasks that are fairly easy for her, and generally moves around a little more slowly, a little more carefully. For example, she spoke to me at length about the difference between the deep end and the shallow end of the kiddie pool (the yard was at a slight grade, after all) and while she wanted to go to the deep end, she—as a baby—needed to stay in the shallow end for now. 

I do not have any background in early childhood development, granted, but I find her practice to be really impressive. On a basic level, she is probably saying something like this: “I can show myself all the things I already know how to do so that the new things that show up aren’t scary or impossible, but just the stuff I’m not old enough to do yet.” This is probably standard behavior for a happy, confident kid.

On a more philosophical level, however, this move is a really important one for the rest of us because I think she’s also saying this: “I am aware of and comfortable with myself as an incomplete version of myself.” Now, I’ll be honest in saying that I’m putting words in her mouth here; that is not a direct quotation uttered by a three-year-old before she stomped downstairs and demanded to eat grapes in the middle of the night. That said, I don’t think I’m really overstating her baby character’s value either. How quick are we to talk about the times when we simply couldn’t do everything we wanted to do? Or conversely, how hesitant are we to tout the basic things that, while unimpressive to most, are some of the things that we’re genuinely good at? These things don’t feel too good to talk about—it makes one feel incapable, or worse. I can speak from personal experience about searching for employment this summer; it stinks having to talk about not getting a job because, in doing so, you have to admit on some level that “I couldn’t do it.”

Yet, I think there are two very real keys to getting more comfortable in approaching such things, and the first one is easy: our three-year-old is aware that she is still growing up and that while she can’t do one thing or another now, it feels perfectly OK because she’s not done. Obviously, we as adults cannot expect as much sweeping change and development to naturally occur for us like it does for a three-year-old, but we sure do have a bad habit of considering ourselves far more “done” than we actually are.

The second key seems a bit trickier, but is likely even more important: our young pool goer seems to be growing up with the understanding that limitations and challenges are not just things that happen to us, but are a part of us. The baby character is really a sort of mature and safe way for her to experience all those limitations rather than pretending they aren’t there. The old, “youth is wasted on the young” adage certainly has some truth to it, but I wonder if our adult practice of trying to present ourselves as complete and polished beings ought to be made into a saying as well: “age makes the aged older” or something to that effect.

In any case, my final kiddie pool “pro tip” is that kiddie pools are hardly just for kids. Next time they go inside the house for a nap, head on out to the yard and sit right down in that circular fluorescent haven. Sure, the water isn’t deep enough, the floaties seem a bit excessive, and there might be a half-eaten grilled cheese floating beside you​, but are you in the pool? Oh yeah. Now it’s an adultie pool, and now we’re all still growing up.