Monday, July 14, 2014


        Yep, it's summertime and that means swimming pools of every size and shape are open for business. From the backyard wading pool, to the city sponsored community pool, to the backwoods swimming hole the cool water both clear and murky is beckoning and every kid lucky enough to have access to any type of water will be diving in. Kids love swimming pools, I know I did when I was a kid and so did all of my children. As my kids were growing up, they and I with them, experienced the usual evolution of backyard swimming pools. It's an all too familiar story. You start with something fun for them and easy for you, and gradually work your way up through the usual pool manifestations that are increasingly more fun for them and less easy for you. In the end, depending on how much aggravation you are willing to bear and how much money you are willing to pay for aggravation, you end up with a pool that is never quite big enough for them and way too big for you. Aint it great?

It begins when they are toddlers and the blow-up baby pool occupies a place of honor in the backyard or on the patio. They are a pain to blow up , literally, but otherwise are convenient and safe. You blow them up, fill them up, throw the kids in and they are content for just about as long as a two-year-old can be. Three inches of water is pretty manageable. No need for inner tubes, life-vests, swimmies or any other kind of floatation device, all you need is some floatable toys and you have about as much fun as a three year old can stand. That kind of pool is basically worry free. When you're done for the day just step on the side of the pool until all of the water runs out, let the air out, fold it up and put it away. Unfortunately the blow-up baby pool has a limited useful life span. By the time they are five or six the "baby" part of the baby pool is basically unacceptable to any self-respecting kid and they begin to agitate for the next step in backyard pool evolution. It is then time to trade up and you won't get any peace until the "Three Foot Pool" is taking up too much room in your backyard.

Ah, the "Three Foot Pool". When you get right down to it the primary and most popular feature of the "Three Foot Pool" is the fact that it is only semi-permanent. Its construction is such that it can be put up and taken down with not all that much difficulty. It's no blow-up pool to be sure but it isn't a permanent fixture either. Any pool that relies on the weight of the water to maintain its shape can't really be taken seriously. The thing I remember most about this type of pool is the fact that it was constantly full of grass. Its low profile and flexibility makes it far too easy for kids to get in and out of, which they do too frequently dragging grass and God knows what else back in with them. Also, the fact that people usually don't take them seriously means that they don't take adequate care of them either. They always seem to be dirty. In fact, without a pump or filter or any cleaning device the "Three Foot Pool" actually seems designed to get dirty and by the end of summer they are nothing if not unappetizing. If you stop and think about it, the "Three Foot Pool" is really just a stalling mechanism. With the proper attitude the stubborn parent can use the "Three Foot Pool" to avoid making the commitment to what the kids really want which is the "Four Foot Pool" most commonly known as simply "The Above Ground Pool"

The typical "Above-Ground-Pool" is four feet deep and can come in just about any size from the standard ten foot circular pool to these oval pools that can be truly humongous depending on how much of your yard you want to devote to swimming and how much money you want to spend. These things don't come cheap. They cost thousands of dollars to buy and install and then a continuous flow of money to maintain. And believe me when I say that it is unwise to do the installation your self, even for the smaller versions. The amount of work and necessary technique required makes it well worth paying professionals to do it. You definitely don't want to spend all that money to buy the thing only to botch the installation and have a pool that leans noticeably and unattractively to one side. An "Above-Ground-Pool" is not supposed to have a "deep end". I personally don't mind the "look" of  an "Above-Ground-Pool" and have great memories of the one I had when I was a kid but my husband is not fond of them. In his opinion they are ugly and more work than they are worth. I admit that they have to be done properly. You don't want an eyesore in your backyard for years on end but I have seen some really nice ones with adjoining decks and all tastefully landscaped to the point where you hardly notice that it is above ground. The "Above-Ground-Pool" is more or less a permanent fixture but nothing stays fun forever and there does come a time when the kids outgrow it. When that happens it can be taken down and the bare spot it leaves in your yard can be replanted. Not so with the king of all backyard pools – the "In-Ground-Pool".

Ah, the "In-Ground-Pool", everyone's favorite pool, the "real" pool, the "lucky girl's" pool. Who wouldn't want one? It's elegant, it's beautiful, it shouts luxury and good living and is often as much a social statement as a place to swim. It is also truly expensive costing not thousands of dollars but tens of thousands and is permanent with a capital P. Once it is in it aint coming out without tremendous effort and expense. It is also very versatile. You can do a lot with an "In-Ground-Pool", It's big, wide and deep and usually comes with a diving board. You can get under water lights with it for swimming at night, which is great. If you can afford it this is the pool you want. It is head and shoulders above the "Above-Ground-Pool" but like the "Above-Ground-Pool" it has one major drawback, the same drawback of every body of water  - people can drown in them, especially kids.

I know I often sound like the voice of doom but keeping our children safe is the first and most important job of motherhood. So I have to tell you the one thing, the only thing, I don't like about pools is the danger they can present (that and June Bugs floating around). Little kids and deep water don't mix. That's why most places have ordinances governing the fencing in of backyard pools. It's only common sense to keep small children away from danger; therefore a family pool has to be managed appropriately. Access for the little ones has to be restricted and parents have to be ever vigilant in keeping the child and the pool separated whenever the pool isn't being used with appropriate supervision. This can be difficult since the pool will always be a source of fascination for small children. The best and strongest gate becomes useless the moment it is left open. That is why it is imperative to teach children to swim as early as possible.

Teaching children to swim can be a painful or pleasant process depending on the method employed and quite possibly the age of the child (the younger they are the easier they learn). I think the biggest mistake parents make when teaching a child to swim is approaching it as a "lesson". Lessons aren't fun. Swimming lessons are often stressful to the child because lessons bring with them the stigma of a learning process that is to regimented and therefore contains the possibility of success or failure. Nobody likes pressure, especially kids. To be in a formal swimming class is like being in any other kind of school. You have a bunch of kids all lined up by the pool and all given the same instruction. Some will pick it up quicker than others, which starts the pressure building. Add to that the scariness of learning to swim and you have all the makings of an unpleasant experience; one that is merely endured rather than enjoyed.

On the other hand if you just have fun with your kid while she is in the pool the swimming part will come naturally. A little subtle coaching along the way and she will be doggy paddling in no time. It seems the younger they are when they are introduced to the water the more readily they take to swimming. We have all seen the incredible pictures of babies swimming under water (it's adorable but also kind of creepy). They seem to do it naturally up to a certain age; toss them in the water and they hold their breath instinctively. They swim around underwater or flip over onto their backs and float with what seems like no effort at all. But you can't do that with a three-year-old. Somewhere along the line they seem to lose that natural ability. Rafts, inner tubes, swimmies, life vests or any floatation device helps during the transition between non-swimmer and swimmer. You have to be careful of diving of course, and too much horsing around usually results in injuries.

One last important point. You have to remember to not let yourself get too distracted when your kids are in the water. Keep your eyes open because, as they say, "drowning doesn't look like drowning". Most of us have this picture in our minds of what a drowning person looks like. It's usually something along the lines of what we see on TV or in the movies – someone in the water flailing about and waving their arms calling for help. In real life it doesn't happen that way. Drowning is usually a quiet thing. There's no splashing, yelling, or waving of arms. Someone who is drowning is in a truly desperate situation. They can't keep their head above water (if they could they wouldn't be drowning). Normally all of their strength, effort, and concentration are devoted to getting their head above water just long enough to get that next gulp of air before they submerge again. Eventually they run out of strength and can't get that gulp of air. There have been incidents of children drowning with their mothers standing right next to them in the water and having a casual conversation, unaware of what is quietly transpiring just inches away. We have to keep our eyes and minds on the kids. Happy swimming.



  1. Teaching kids to swim at a young age is very important. Both for the child and for your own piece of mind. As you say there should always be someone present, even for experienced swimmers...accidents happen.

    1. Yes, accidents happen. About twenty years ago a little three year old boy who lived around the corner from me drowned in the family's in-ground pool. The gate had been left open. His father was nearby cutting the grass but didn't notice what was happening. I thought of both of them as I was writing this blog.