We are surrounded by hundreds of sunbathers at a very public pool. Even though you are nearing me in height I must hoist you up into my arms (to the amusement of those around us), and walk deliberately into the water. Long ago I mastered the ability to keep my face calm as the icy water envelops us.
We are in now, and as always, you are glommed onto me. Every 30 seconds I say, “John, not the neck!” and pry you from my windpipe. We bob on the water, you and I, and I see you relax in increments. We look for Sam and I point to him high up on the water slide.
You say, “Go water slide?” and I repeat, “Go water slide? Yes or no.” You say, “NO!” Okay. We bob some more, we glide from one end of the pool to the other. With a splash, Sam lands in front of us. You grin. Sam says, “John! Go water slide?” You are excited and flap your hands, I know you want to, how you want to!
“John,” we say together, “Go water slide? Yes or no.”
“YES!” you say. So out we get and Sam grabs your hand. I am hopeful but this scene has played out before: we always come down the slide… just always the wrong way.
We begin our ascent and fall into line behind at least a dozen kids. You are still excited. Sam says, “John, it’s so much fun! Go water slide?” and I see your face waver and fill with doubt. You say, “Go home.” I tell you that it will be great and not to worry, Sam will go first.
Finally we arrive at the top. There are two slides, a blue and a green. Sam shoots down one and I hold your shoulders until the lifeguard gives us the signal. I glance behind me: the line snakes below.
This is it.
“Green!” shouts the lifeguard. You break free, scream and say, “GO HOME!” I glance at the guard, certain that what I see will be impatience and I steel myself for the long retreat down the stairs. Instead I see compassion. He says, “Take your time.” Other kids fly by us while you stomp your feet and yell “ALL DONE!” We are quite the spectacle up here at the top. A few kids stare at you but most smile and tell you, “Hey, it’s fun! Don’t be scared!”
I think this gives us both courage. I kneel in front of you. “John, I know you want to go down this slide. Mommy is going to help. I will put you on it and meet you at the bottom.” You yell your protest again but I see a small smile, which baby, is your dead giveaway. I explain to the guard what I’m about to do and I hoist you again (you are getting so big) and sit you at the top of the slide.
One push and you’re off.
Even though I know the pool at the bottom is just three feet deep, I panic for a second — now what? The guard, who is the calmest, most adult teenager I’ve ever seen, says, “if you shoot down the blue slide you’ll beat him down.” Now your mom hasn’t been on a water slide since the 1970s and really doesn’t care to change that but here I go. I hurl myself down the tube and land what seems like an eternity later with a splash below. I look everywhere for your bobbing head. Are you okay? Did you already get out?
Thirty seconds later you appear (indeed your slide is slower), and the grin plastered on your face is a beautiful sight. I catch you, and hug you. “John, you did it! Baby, you did it! I am so proud of you!”
I see that you are proud too.