My kids splash in the shallows of the pond as Band-Aids float by. I remove a Dora one that’s wrapped around my calf and release it a few feet to my left. I’m anchored to my spot knee-deep, arms across my chest, wearing the same weathered Red Sox cap I wore as a teenaged lifeguard, my eyes shifting between two unstable points: my three-year-old and my six-year-old. The six-year-old learned to float a week ago and is working on swimming, producing a lot of turbulence as he paddles from the concrete fountain to me and back. The three-year-old alternates between filling his bucket with sand and dragging himself around in the water with his hands on the bottom, legs floating behind him. Every once in a while they do something I don’t expect, and that’s why I maintain this state of vigilance, a state I settle back into easily, remembering the mix of boredom, anxiety, and authority. The only thing missing is a whistle to twirl around my fingers.
I spent six summers perched in a chair above the moms and their kids at a town pond a mere eight miles away. Often I was so silent and still that the moms forgot I was only a few feet above them and lapsed into intimacy. One day I realized two of them were talking about sex, or at least foreplay. The first one joked that when her husband touched her nipples, she wanted to tell him to turn on the lights so she could react appropriately. The other one guffawed. “I mean, I appreciate the gesture, but after nursing three,” the first one said, trailing off. I slowly put it together that her nipples were as tough as my feet had become from walking in hot sand all summer. Oh, how sad, how pathetic, I thought, to have reached this point. I looked them over in their skirted floral suits, designed for maximum coverage.