I’ve become the kind of mom I used to pity.
Back in the mid-1980s, my best friend’s mom would drive us to the water park in the height of summer. We’d kick off our sandals, toss aside our towels and run to the nearest set of concrete stairs.
We never worried about our stuff because Mrs. Tarun was there, in the shade, keeping guard.
I remember that I thanked her for taking us out, and I remember silently wondering why she wasn’t irritated about sitting down while we were off sliding and splashing.
I felt sorry for her — though clearly not sorry enough to offer to sit in her place.
The appeal of the giant water slide has since dissipated. I’ve been a mom longer than I was a teenager. And now I understand Mrs. Tarun and all of the stalwart moms like her.
I love being the mom in charge of the gear.
I like lounging on a comfy chair, reading a novel, guarding snacks, prescription glasses, water bottles, towels and sunscreen. I enjoy being the checkpoint, watching for my children and their friends to stop by, listening to their adventures, offering apple slices and Oreos, reminding them to reapply sunscreen, sending them out again.
Once a summer, we brave our nearby water park. We arrive early to find a spot in the shade. I listen to big plans, remind everyone to follow the rules and be kind, and then read and rest while the young people rush toward slides and wave pools and lazy rivers.
It’s one of the only days all year in which I laze, guilt-free, for hours at a time.
I also catch glimpses of other families and watch children have fun in spite of the all the rules we place on them.
The lifeguard at the wave pool whistles about once every 90 seconds, followed by a stern “Walk!” What he really means, of course, is “Don’t run,” but we’ve all been trained to redirect in the positive. Kids understand the scolding nonetheless.
Parents all around me ignore those redirection directions and simply holler, “Stop!”
Children roll their eyes as moms and dads offer advice.
“Mom, I’m listening,” says one exasperated preteen as he tries to walk away from the shaded sidelines and into the wave pool fray.
“You say that,” mom replies, “but then you don’t!”
I watch a soaking wet child return to his family’s home base. He has good intentions of reapplying sunscreen, and there’s not even an adult nearby to direct him — or to remind him that his skin should be dry first.
He sprays on half a canister.
He looks down at his legs, now streaked with white sunscreen that drips toward his ankles.
He pauses. He picks up a nearby towel and rubs it off. All of it, water and sunscreen. Then he bounces back toward the water, not a drop of sunscreen remaining.
A nearby mom admonishes her enthusiastic child: “Don’t get too tired out there! You have soccer tonight.”
Two boys — brothers, maybe, or best friends — share a tube of powdered, colored sugar. One holds the 3-foot plastic tube above his mouth and drinks in the sandy sugar. He passes the tube to his buddy, who follows suit. Then they’re off to conquer a slide.
My own children return, dripping wet, with tales from three laps on the lazy river. They’re hungry and thirsty. Their freckled pink noses signal the need for more sunblock. They tell me how much fun they’re having, then they’re off again, leaving me for my own kind of fun.
For real. No pity required.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at email@example.com.