In the summer, it's best to be a pool rat

A laugh track bleats from a TV down the hall while five-fingered maple leaves wave listlessly in mid-July afternoon heat. Our children are bundled up in the cool shade of the TV room, watching an insipid teen comedy while I’m seated at a computer, working from home after a week’s vacation.

For the third time in less than an hour, one of our children fidgets at my elbow, asking in a low voice if we can go to the pool. No, we can’t go to the pool, I answer, draining the last drops of patience from an upended canteen. I have work to do. Check back in an hour. Go outside and play, I advise, pointing to the dusty-dry front yard and the mirror-still harbor beyond.

I’m dialed into work, and the connection is slow. The mouse pointer stutters. I have an irritating kinesthetic sensation of muscle weakness, like I’m too feeble to budge the mouse pointer frozen on the screen.

Our oldest boy appears, and before he can speak, I hold up my hand for silence and explain the deal I made with the last emissary from the TV room. No pool discussion for at least an hour. He watches the computer screen for a moment. “Dad, there’s Wi-Fi at the pool.” He connects the dots for me. “You could dial-in from the pool, Dad.“

I watch the screen refresh a quarter-page at a time. He’s right. “Do you know the password?” He furrows his brow for a moment, and replies “It’s like fun in the sun or something.”

I stare out the window. The dog is squirming on his back in the parched grass, grunting while he struggles to scratch an itch. “OK,” I say, tentatively. The dog jumps to his feet and sneezes. Shouts echo in the entryway as the kids assemble swimsuits, towels, goggles, ping-pong balls.

It’s a beautiful day. We’re headed to the pool. I have loads of work to do.

While the kids disappear into gender-appropriate locker rooms, I open the metal door at the end of a concrete-block hallway. I’m stunned by brilliant sunshine and the shouts of teenaged boys with brand new deep male voices, playing king-of-the-hill on square-blue foam mats in choppy clear-blue water.

Grade-school boys seemingly made of rusty wire scamper around the pool, their swimsuits hanging on them as if on metal hangers. Young women, looking as if their swimsuit model tour bus broke down somewhere on Monument Road, dangle tanned legs in the cool blue water. Guys like me, looking like there’s enough extra material to make a couple more people out of them, lie beached on deck chairs like groaning sea lions.

At the opposite end of the pool, a bandy-legged barefoot boy in baggy swim-trunks walks gingerly on the exposed aggregate, his arms folded around skinny ribs, tanned-ocher skin slick and wet. He bounces on the end of a diving board and lands in the center of the pool with a sharp slap, wet skin on unyielding blue water.

The kids and I make our way to a pair of white vinyl deck chairs. Moms in modest one-piece swimsuits look up from their books, recognizing our children and searching the faces behind me for my wife Maria. This is Maria’s turf. I’m a stand-in, a sub. The moms smile faintly and return to their books. No Maria.

Our youngest boy reveals that he and his twin sister have become pool rats this summer. Their oldest brother, apparently a senior pool rat, explains that pool rats aren’t anything official. The pool manager sometimes trades ice cream “and chips!” our youngest girl interjects gleefully, for small jobs — sweeping the entrance, weeding a small plot of flowers.

Our youngest boy says that it feels great to be a pool rat now. He shrugs and wanders off to earn a vanilla-fudge Drumstick while our oldest boy slides imperceptibly into a knot of older pool rats at the other end of the pool. A couple of them are wearing pants and lace-up shoes.

I self-consciously open my laptop. I can’t see the screen at all in the sun’s full glare. I try to nestle the screen in the half-moon of shade beneath my belly.

At the edge of the pool, our oldest girl waves and slips gracefully into the cool blue water, a faint blue mermaid camouflaged against the blue walls of the pool, her hair trailing behind her like a brunette comet. With a few scissor-strokes, she surfaces at the far end of the pool.

I type in the fun-in-the-sun Wi-Fi password written on a sticky-note. After a few seconds, my laptop gives an out-of-battery warning. I fold up the laptop with a click. I’m getting nothing done. But I bet I’d make a great pool rat.

— Kevin Pottinger, his wife Maria and their children live on Vashon.

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