Testing the waters - FamilyEducation

Testing the waters

August 10,2009
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

What do I, and a community swimming pool, have in common? We both turn 40 this month. Construction on our neighborhood began in 1962, and in 1969 the pool--the hub of all our summer activity, the place where both kids learned to swim, where L.'s self-esteem soared for a brief, and wondrous period, the oasis in the woods we love so much, was opened. It's strange to me to think about that summer, forty years ago; to think that the month I was born, kids were jumping into the water for the first time at a pool in a neighborhood far, far away. This Saturday there was a huge celebration at our pool--complete with clowns, games and music, lots of good food, and a nostalgic slide show--to celebrate the pool's birthday. Many, many neighbors from long ago came back, including the pool's first swim coach, a white-haired man, who seemed so glad to be back--made young again by his memories. As I sat on a deck chair, boca burger in hand, I thought about how I envied the pool. According to many neighbors (one neighbor remembers being the FIRST child to jump into the pool on the day it opened in 1969 when she was eight) the pool hasn't changed much in forty years. Oh, the lining was replaced, and the cement deck re-done at one point. Of course there are new picnic tables, and small makeovers here and there. But overall, the pool has stayed the same, a stolid, unchanging vessel of sorts, there to contain for a bit all the people who have passed through, and grown up, and returned again to find it still the same, to rediscover the child we all have inside, no matter how old we grow. ************* For months now I've been dragging about turning forty--literally. The number felt like a weight, pulling at my feet, and resting on my shoulders, pushing me to the ground. It doesn't help that I'll turn forty days before T. heads off to her first full week of kindergarten (or that my knees sometimes hurt now when I get up in the morning); somehow, the combination of turning forty AND seeing your last baby off to elementary school seems a low blow indeed. But little by little, over the past few weeks, I've been coming out to the other side of this birthday business, letting go of the feeling of dread and doom that used to wash over me every time I tried out the new number on my tongue: forty. There are two sides to everything, of course. Being able to turn forty is a wonderful thing--it's a celebration of forty years on earth, and of my two beautiful kids, and my marriage, and my parents' love for each other, and my siblings' love and support, and of all the ways my life has intersected with the lives of others. But it also feels like new territory--a leap into a decade that will mark the end of a part of my life I loved dearly: being a new mama to squeaky, nuzzling babies, then to whirlwind toddlers, then to small preschoolers whose bodies still fit perfectly into my arms, and who laid their cheeks against my shoulders, all softness--their babyhood still there in their rounded knees, and dimpled hands. But it's also exciting to think about this new land ahead, waiting to be explored. It's exciting to watch your kids grow into interesting and good people--the kind of people you'd seek out yourself if you could. After years of sleep deprivation it's nice at least--even if you can't muster a seamless night every night--to at least have kids who let you sleep in on a Saturday morning. And forty? They say it's the new thirty, after all--a time when many women come into their own, when they move beyond the demands and constraints of round-the-clock mothering and into themselves. So while I can't say I'm rushing eagerly at forty, arms outstretched, ready to gather this new decade to my heart like a near and dear friend, the dread and doom feeling is almost gone. I'm hoping that by the time my birthday rolls around, later this month, I'll be ready to take it in, and make it my own. After all, if the pool can do it, surely I can, too.