It's going to be a long, hot summer for parents at the kiddie pool


Our community pool offers the usual attractions: middle-aged guys with enormous guts inexplicably decked out in skimpy Speedos, sun-worshiping doyennes with dark, leathery skin gamely trying to upgrade their Stage I melanoma, giddy teen-agers with raging hormones eyeing each other from various towel encampments as Hootie and the Blowfish blares from a nearby boombox.

Sadly, though, I find myself missing much of the action, consigned instead to the 15 square feet of hell known as the kiddie pool.

For the parents of young children, the kiddie pool is the equivalent of doing hard time in the joint.

As someone once observed, the kiddie pool offers all the heat and humidity of a regular pool, only without that refreshing dip that makes it all bearable.

Our kiddie pool sits off to one side, a noisy isolated gulag surrounded by a low, Attica-style chain-link fence. All that's missing are the coils of concertina wire.

Two or three times a week, I'll take my 4-year-old there. He has a ball splashing around with his little buddies. Me, I sit there in a sun-addled, sweat-soaked stupor, my feet dangling in the warm, soupy water as chorus after chorus of "Daddy, watch this!" pierces the air.

Occasionally, young parents will appear at the kiddie pool with John Grisham novels or Erma Bombeck collections under their arms, as if they actually plan to relax.

Oh, God, that's so funny! Sometimes it's all I can do not to walk over and bop these parents on the head with my son's Fred Flintstone shovel and say: "What are you, a knucklehead?"

Because there is no relaxing at the kiddie pool. Any parent expecting to read has not quite grasped the kiddie pool concept. This is a place with all the calm of a Hong Kong fish market. "Expect nothing but trouble" is the cheery motto under which I operate.

First of all, none of these kids can swim. Actually, since some of these kids are only about 2 feet tall, they can't even walk in the water.

It seems that every 10 seconds or so, a parent is leaping into the water like someone out of "Rescue 911" to grab some kid who has gone under.

Another reason there can be no relaxing is because of the one Immutable Law of the Kiddie Pool, which states: No matter how many pails, Nerf balls, squirt guns, rubber duckies, Lion King inner tubes, etc., your kid has brought, he or she will want to play with another kid's toys.

Which means that every couple of minutes, two kids are squaring off Bloods-vs-Crips-style for the same Princess Jasmine watering can or G.I. Joe action figure.

Or if they're not actually whacking each other, one kid is crying because the other kid won't let him play with his toys.

In either case, like a policeman in the Gaza Strip, a parent must be ready at a moment's notice to leap from his or her sweaty poolside perch to defuse the situation.

Sometimes when it's hot and the kiddie pool is crowded, you can almost hear a bell go off and ring announcer Michael Buffer intone: "Ladies and gentlemen, let's get ready to RRRRUMMBLE!"

Like the inmates of some steamy, mosquito-ridden Devil's Island, the little people in the kiddie pool are constantly trying to escape.

The minute someone leaves the gate open, four or five toddlers will bolt for freedom.

They don't even know what freedom is, they're so young. But by God, they know that gate is open. And some primal, deep-rooted urge tells them they must get to the other side -- even though two people who look suspiciously like their mom and dad are frantically running after them now and screaming, "Jamie, come back here!"

Draining, enervating, unnerving -- yes, yes, a session at the kiddie pool is all that, and much more.

And just when you think it can't get much worse -- ta-daa! -- it gets worse. Because now your kid wants to visit . . . the refreshment stand.

Thus begins the long trek through the hot sun for fries, Airheads, M&M;'s, sno-cones, Nutty Buddys, pretzels, chips, etc., which will leave the little dear greasy and sticky and probably with a big-time tummy ache.

By August, huge squadrons of killer yellow jackets will be following you back from the refreshment stand, driven half-mad by the scent of melting Popsicles and half-empty Pepsis.

But this is no time to think about that. August is still a long way off. Why, measured in kiddie pool time (where five minutes seems like five hours to a parent) August is light-years away.

Oh, there's scads of fun to be had in the kiddie pool before August rolls around.

I'm sorry. That was cruel of me.

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