Getting Wet

River DadI don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been hot this summer. Like really, really hot.  Like melt-your-eyeballs hot. Having two young children as I do, and being at home with them during the day as I am, and lathering them with gallons of sun block as I do, and watching them liquefy into pools of goo under the fierce glare of the unrelenting sun as I have, has given me a particularly strong desire to find ways to keep myself and those in my care extra cool.

Unfortunately, the end of the school year also means the end of free air-conditioning for my children during the hottest times of the day. Suddenly, we need to find ways to keep the young ones on ice from mid-June to mid-September. On one hand, this seems an easy task, but it turns out you can’t just stuff a human child into a large freezer for three months and then thaw them out for school in the fall. Another obvious solution is to drop them in front of a television in an air-conditioned room for the duration of the summer. However, there are many drawbacks to this seemingly brilliant plan. For one, they see commercials, and they want you to buy things for them. For another, a lot of the televised fare at 3 in the morning is less-than-suitable for children. And of course, TV melts their brains.

So we need other solutions. Things that society would not frown upon, yet will still keep the children in a solid state of matter. We could take them to other air-conditioned places – libraries for instance – but I’m also interested in escapades that get kids outside. In general, that means getting them wet.

We don’t currently belong to a pool.  Coming from California, the idea of having to belong to a pool to go swimming seems unnatural. Growing up, if we wanted to swim, we’d just fill one of the many swimming pool-sized holes within the neighborhood created by the frequent earthquakes and swim in it until the next earthquake opened the chasm wider and swallowed all the water, and often one of the children. Those who are fortunate enough to afford the costs of swimming pool construction and maintenance should consider building their own pool.

Out here, you’re not so lucky. So we’ve taken great pains in my family to only make friends with people who belong to one of the area’s pools and can thus invite us out for a swim. We try not to be obvious about it, not wanting to seem overly creepy. Generally, when we meet new people, the conversation goes something like this.

“Nice to meet you, River Dad!”

“Same here, New Friend! What do you like to do during the summer?”

“Oh, you know. Work in the yard. Maybe take in a ballgame.”

“Ah yes. Great stuff. Say, if you were a beach or swimming club, which of our local beach or swimming clubs would you be?”
“What? Uhm.. well, I mean… I dunno. I don’t really know much about them. We don’t belong to…”
“I’d love to stay and chat, but we’re moving to Maine.”

Sometimes, however, even the best-laid plans fail to produce. Recently, we decided to bite the bullet and take matters into our own hands. We joined the Westchester County Park system. See, the County owns five pools, and if you join the system, you earn the right to buy admission into the pools at a reduced rate. We decided to do this on July 5, the Monday that everyone had off and that boasted temperatures in the triple digits.

It was a little crowded.

I cordoned off a 3-foot square plot in the shallow end at the Saxon Woods pool, and we took turns swimming the borders of our territory and unceremoniously elbowing any toddler that dared breach our imaginary walls. After an hour at the pool, or about 30 minutes less than we spent in line getting into the pool, we gave up.

If you can’t go to the pool, sometimes the pool can come to you. We are the proud owners of a 2-foot tall rubber circle that you blow up and then fill with the hose. For some reason, this solution works wonders with the kids, who can find no end of joy by simply jumping in and out of what amounts to a medium-sized puddle. Apparently, this is what amounts to water play here in Westchester, because we’ve had neighbor kids race over to hop into the plastic circle as well, like it’s some great, unique treasure.

Another homegrown solution is the sprinkler. Children frolic and dance as a wall of water lazily moves back and forth. It’s all so safe, so dull. Call me a purist, but it just isn’t the same without the risk of tripping, falling, and chopping up your kneecap in a shower of gore. Now that’s how real childhood memories are made.

But as wondrous and fulfilling as these ideas are, variety is the spice of life, and sometimes a parent just isn’t up to spending 45 minutes blowing up the kiddie pool until they hyperventilate. During a recent visit, my father-in-law demonstrated the mind-bogglingly simple, time-tested trick of simply spraying the kids with a hose. I watched, amazed, as the kids giggled, leaped, and played while he sat in the backyard, beer in one hand, hose in the other, and kept them occupied for twenty minutes, proving wisdom really does come with age.

Now, if you have the strength, you can always relent to the endless requests and fill up a ton of water balloons. Kids love these, because they get to take their childhood rage out on each other. If you set them up and duck out of the way, you can generally avoid a soaking. The main drawback of water balloons is that they are a major pain in the behind. You have to fill each one independently. That takes time. Then you have to pick up every single fragment of rubber confetti when they’ve popped them all. That takes even more time. Then you usually have to apologize to one or more of your kids for hitting them in the back with a well-placed lob. Like it’s your fault they weren’t watching their backs.

What we really need is a Slip and Slide. Or as we used to call them when we were kids, a Slip and Fall and Break Something. It’s actually pretty simple to put together, when you think about it. Just get a roll of plastic sheeting from a local nursery, place the hose at the top, turn on the spigot, and pray the kids don’t end up in the middle of the street. Presto! Instant aquatic fun!

These are just some of the ideas at the top of the list. It’s a long summer, and we parents can get pretty desperate. If things get too hot, I suggest filling your kids’ snow boots with water, or just leaving your child out in the rain. Whatever it takes to keep them moist.

Stay cool.

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About the Author: David Neilsen