Today the girls and I had our first experience with a NYC public pool. Predictably, we were traumatized, as I expected we would be — just not in the way I anticipated.
For our first NYC public pool experience, I chose McCarren pool in Williamsburg — newly renovated with a gradual slope down into the water, which is perfect for young kiddos who are just getting used to the water. The McCarren pool just opened for the first time last week, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had read online about the new, clean locker rooms (yea) as well as a group of teenage thugs who beat up some lifeguards (boo). But as teenage hooligans are one thing, and dirty locker rooms another, I decided it was definitely worth checking out.
We actually left the house on time (gasp!), were slowed down by traffic on the BQE only minimally, and arrived at 11:00am, opening time for the pool. We got a parking spot right across the street (double gasp!). There was already a line waiting to get in, full of moms and kids and strollers like us, but it moved pretty quickly. The girls were in a good mood; I was over the moon, feeling super proud of my summer-fun-planning-skills.
We got to the front of the line, where several blue-shirted pool attendants were looking through people’s bags. No big deal — our two bags were compactly and neatly packed with all our usual fun-in-the-water stuff: sunscreen, towels, hats, extra clothes, snacks, water, diapers, wipes, changing pad, pacifiers, sunglasses, female toiletries and goggles.
Then I heard one park attendant say, “No bags on the sun deck.”
Um, what? I thought.
The attendant turned his attention to me. “No bags on the sun deck, miss.”
“But these are just our towels and clothes and diapers,” I replied.
“Okay,” he said. “You don’t have anything to eat in there, do you?”
I looked at my kids, both of them guiltily holding crackers. “Um, yes?”
“You have to put it in a locker,” he replied.
Being a new pool-goer, I hadn’t thought to bring a padlock with me. “I’m parked just across the street, I’ll put the snacks in my car.”
I got all three of us back across the street, ditched the snacks in the car and returned to the attendant.
“Okay, we’re back!” I said brightly, and he let me through.
Little did I know that dozens of Parks Department employees had formed rings around the perimeter, each one progressively harder to pass.
The next attendant I encountered repeated the dire warning, “No bags on the sun deck, miss.”
“Oh, yes, I explained to the gentleman before that it’s only towels and sunscreen and clothes,” I replied reasonably.
“Okay, leave the stroller and talk to them in there. But you can’t have bags on the sun deck.”
Now carrying Baby Sis, I went through this routine about three more times, the tension level rising in each encounter the closer we got to the pool. At one point N turned to me and said, “Mom, it’s like they don’t want us to go to the pool!” I gritted my teeth and vowed to continue on.
Finally we reached the locker rooms — the last ring and the port of entry to the pool itself. We could smell the chlorine!
But alas, there was another blue-shirted person, waiting to thwart us.
“Miss, you can’t bring those bags on the deck,” she said sternly. I tried the same explanation that had worked before, with other attendants in the outer rings, but she would not budge.
Finally I had to accept that I could not bring the damn bags onto the sun deck. I decided to ditch them in an unclaimed locker and take my chances.
But the attendant was right behind me. “Miss, you can’t do that!” she said forcefully.
“Oh, I don’t care what happens to the stuff,” I said, getting a bit desperate. I had promised N that we would go to the pool today, and I was determined that we would succeed.
The attendant and I had a tense exchange, in which she recommended that we walk to Metropolitan Avenue to buy a lock (ha!! dragging these two girls??) and I refused, deciding instead to dramatically renounce my property in the unsecured locker.
“Just a minute, miss, I’m going to get my supervisor. Wait right here,” she instructed firmly.
I was starting to panic. It was really very important to me that we go to the pool together, today. I don’t know why, it just was. We don’t get that many opportunities to do this kind of thing, in the course of our normal year. Couldn’t we just take one darn vacation day and enjoy it??
The supervisor came back. She was even more unyielding than the blue-shirted attendant. Finally, almost with tears in my eyes, I grabbed all our stuff back out of the locker and turned back to the supervisor.
“You know, these rules are way too strict!” I lashed out. “They actually encourage people to break the rules and try to get around you — then you have a bunch of people who shouldn’t be in there, instead of families like us, just trying to have a fun day of swimming!!”
Since I never like to take out my anger on someone who is obviously just following the rules, I immediately softened my tone. “This is not directed at you at all, in any way. I know you’re just following the rules.”
I don’t know why, but the supervisor — in a lower voice — said, “You know, I may have an extra lock. Wait right here.”
Mama was over the moon again!!
The nice lady helped me out, and got her contacts in the attendant-network-ring to help me out — until all three of us girls were finally at the pool!!
We found the shallow part of the pool with the gradual slope, and N announced that she would be the “leader.” Tentatively at first, N waded out into the water and picked her spot. Then she dove under and swam back to me and Baby Sis — no goggles, no holding her nose. Just swimming.
Over the next hour, Baby Sis and I watched as N repeatedly dove under the water and swam back to us. Each time, she’d go out a little further, push herself a little more. She barely came up for air, but when she did she had a big smile on her face.
At one point I said to her, “You really love to swim, don’t you?”
She looked back at me over her shoulder and replied “Yeah,” with a smile.
Mama was over the moon again.
By the time we left, I was thanking those blue-shirted folks and the kind-hearted supervisor who went out of her way to help out a mom in distress.
And as we drove back home through terrible traffic (including a long wait for the open Hamilton Avenue drawbridge to close) while sitting in wet clothes, hungry and exhausted, I realized — this excursion certainly wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worth it.
Now, I just have to find that padlock…!