Home on the Range

I can’t remember a time in my childhood when I wasn’t just dying for want of a swimming pool. The only thing I wanted more was a horse. But even at 12, I knew my parents’ anti-equine logic was unassailable: a thousand-pound quadruped in our suburban backyard? And did I think I was Pippi Longstocking?

I got it — horses and I would always be star-crossed lovers. A swimming pool, however, was different. Few things make as much sense in a suburban backyard. Yet the answer was the same. They had some excuse about not wanting to cut down any of our trees to get the equipment back there, but the real reason we didn’t have a pool was money — and I certainly hold no grudges. My parents paid for my outrageously expensive college education, student loans included. Now that I have two kids with fledgling 529 plans, I realize what a bold and generous move that was. Perhaps mine will be dropouts.

Fortunately, our town did have a municipal swimming pool, and I spent entire summers there, unchaperoned. My friends and I would put on our suits, hang towels round our necks, bike the mile or so to the pool, and wait outside until it opened at 9. We’d eat lunch at the concession stand — sometimes a hot dog and chips, sometimes just Pixy Stix. Who was going to tell us no? We’d come home before dinner, rinse our suits in cold water, and hang them on the clothesline where they’d be waiting for us the next morning, still damp from the dew.

As great as the municipal pool was, there were downsides, like that tedious half hour when only adults got to swim, not to mention the way some kids seemed to confuse “public pool” with “public restroom.” I still wished I had my own. The sheer unbearable wanting of a pool would drive me to do things I’m not very proud of. Like befriending someone I didn’t care for (a world-class nose-picker, to be honest) just so I could use hers. I remember that pool like I was sucking on a Creamsicle right now, my legs dangling over its side: old-school rectangular, with a 3-foot shallow end, an 8-foot deep end. Diving board but no slide. Two ladders, no stairs.

The mother of my friend who wasn’t really my friend taught me how to swim — she taught all the kids on the block. On some Friday nights during the summer, she would invite our parents over for a kind of swimming recital. We would grip the sides of the pool, demonstrating our ability to kick and blow bubbles simultaneously while the grown-ups sipped cocktails on chaise lounges. Our swim instructor would pace back and forth barking orders like a drill sergeant — “Now kick and blow and kick!” — between puffs on her Virginia Slim. Ah, the ’70s.

You might think that after all those years of unrequited longing, I’d be the picture of contentment today, with almost four years of pool ownership under my belt. Yes and no. While it seems unlikely that come 2021 I’ll be able to nonchalantly present my firstborn with a half-million dollars for tuition, at least I can say my kids have the backyard pool I always dreamed of. And they seem to love it as much as I always imagined I would.

But we’ve reached that moment when summer has worn out its welcome, when I’m itching to retire the swimsuits and swim diapers and bust out the long-sleeve shirts and pointless-till-November cardigans. All evidence — the summer clearance sales, the beginning of school, the waning of the afternoon light — may point to the end of the season, but the thermometer continues to say “Everybody into the pool!” So my daughters and I soldier on with our daily swimming routine (now après-school), and sometimes, when I’m settling another dispute over whose turn it is to play with the purple noodle or I have to readjust someone’s goggles for the umpteenth time, I just wish a lifeguard would blow the whistle indicating adult swim, and say, “Sorry, kids, it’s gonna be a long one — this time it’s going to last till May.”

After all, if you’re going to appreciate something, like how lucky you are to have your very own pool, you’ve got to pine for it a little bit. I mean, I don’t want this to turn into one of those I-gave-you-everything-I-ever-wanted-but-couldn’t-afford-as-a-child-and-look-at-the-thanks-I-get-type situations. Which brings me to the question — is 5 too young to get one’s first pony? Because I may have a suburban backyard, but this one is zoned for horses …

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