I am the first one in the pool for the new season, which finally began on Monday, arriving along with several other swimmers well before the 11 am opening time.We didn’t know what to expect with the new schedule: only two of three municipal pools open for two hour shifts, beginning mid-July instead of the usual end of June start date, perhaps others will be lined up to finally go swimming?
Like everything else right now, we are navigating new territory. I just had confirmation last Friday that the camp I had applied to in the beginning of the calendar year was in fact going to be open full days (9 am – 3 pm) and that V had a spot with a 1:1 aide for two weeks. It was a lot of work and planning to try to make it happen, and then it still wasn’t certain that they could safely open with enough social distance between campers. That he is there and I am swimming laps in the pool (although lap lanes are gone, apparently not safe enough according to someone in charge) seems a small miracle. I haven’t been in a pool all year and I am swimming very slowly, like an old lady, but I don’t care. I’m so grateful for this time to myself, to be in water looking up at the sun through the trees. It feels like summer. Not summer in captivity, which is how the season has played out so far, but the kind with freedom, with ease and relaxation, despite having to take my temperature to enter the pool and having to put on a mask when I get out.
There was a time years ago when V would go to this pool, where my job was to help him navigate the social environment as well as the water. The lifeguards were responsive to others with differences that were easier to deal with: refraining from using their whistles for a child on the spectrum who couldn’t tolerate the sound; warmly accepting the young adult with autism who stands in the pool for hours moving his hands rhythmically through the water. But V was an unintentional rule breaker in action: running across the concrete between the kiddie and adult pool, taking off his bathing suit (which I would have to quickly get back on before the lifeguard noticed the little naked swimmer), loudly vocalizing his excitement and being constantly on the move. I have memories of the pool manager helping me to blow dry my cell phone after jumping in after him fully dressed one time, of a lifeguard giving me bandaids after I fell and scraped my knee running after him and watched helplessly as V jumped into the adult pool and disrobed and I had to urge him to get dressed from the sidelines, unable to enter the pool because blood was gushing down my leg. It was great fun for him but never relaxing for me. I don’t miss that stress, although it was a good way to spend part of a hot day. V has lost interest in swimming the last few years and as he’s gotten so much bigger than me it’s more than I can handle so the pool has become a solitary exercise. I walk up the street, do my laps, and come back home.
This past week has been a long overdue break, a half day of utter civility: once he’s out the door (T driving him both ways as transportation this year has been suspended due to safety reasons) I read and write a little, go for my swim, make a nice leisurely lunch and then set about preparing food for V, who will invariably come home ravenous and surprisingly energetic, given he’s been out all day. Although that shouldn’t surprise me at all. Unlike a typical kid who would come home tired and ready for time alone or with screens, V has a whole second shift from 3 – 9 pm and I’m having to adjust from a state of relaxation to the normal hypervigilance of waking hours. Still, I’m so grateful for the respite, and that he has other adults and peers keeping him engaged and happy while I store up some energy for the rest of the day, and more, the rest of the summer and likely beyond.
Things are not looking good for the school year for us and millions of other families. Too little planning and funding, too much denial and poor decision-making from premature state openings. As Paul Krugman titled a recent column, admittedly to grab attention, America Drank Away Its Children’s Future. While I swim in safety I hear cheers from a baseball tournament and look across the park to see about 50 kids sitting together, with parents nearby, playing like it’s 2019. I don’t know how this is possible but it feels so reckless. Could they at least be spread out, considering the consequences of all those sweaty athletes jammed together? I want us all to be able to enjoy the summer but without potential harm to others or the likelihood that we’ll be back to virtual learning in the fall.
For V and many others like him, it just doesn’t work. There’s a digital divide economically, for those who don’t have computers and high speed internet, and there’s one for kids with special needs – developmental or learning disabilities of many kinds – who have the equipment and infrastructure but like V can’t participate in an online classroom. Right now, with no good plan in place, I don’t feel optimistic that schools will be open in any safe way.
But it’s still July, still another week of camp. So for now I do what I can not to peer ahead or back and instead look up at the sky as I do another languid lap in a nearly empty pool.