Moms can be so embarrassing

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thanks, Mom, for embarrassing me when I was a kid.

Remember that time I wanted to take a friend with our family to the swim club? I'm pretty sure it was the summer of 1967. I was 11, the summer before I started junior high. You took us to the pool most every afternoon during those hot summers. That day, I asked if I could invite a friend. I had reached that age when being with friends is more fun than being with family. You were hesitant, but you finally said "yes."

I invited Cindy. She was so cool, one of the really popular girls at school and I was thrilled that she accepted my invitation.

We loaded up the car like we always did with our towels and ice tea and graham crackers (the concession stand being beyond our budget) and, of course, our inner tube. That old black tire gut from one of the trucks at Dad's warehouse. It must have been four feet in diameter, big enough for two of us to sit opposite and hold hands across the middle with our legs dangling in the donut hole. And remember that wicked metal valve stem? You always worried it would gouge out an eye. I think that was part of the excitement.

We picked Cindy up at her fancy house on the hill and headed out. After the hot ride, I tossed down my towel and plunged into the water. But not Cindy. She positioned her towel, rubbed baby oil on her skin and sprayed Sun-In on her hair.

I quickly pulled myself out of the water as if I had only been kidding about actually swimming and mimicked her movements.

You always spent the first half-hour or so reading "Time" magazine on one of Dad's old army blankets, smoking a cigarette and drinking ice tea.

"Geez," we thought, "how boring." (Now, I'm thinking, "Way to go, Mom! Way to take time for yourself.")

After predictable pleading on our part, you pulled on your swim cap. That was the year you wore that yellow one with the floppy daisies on it. You didn't dive in like Dad. Instead, you started on the steps in the shallow end and squealed at the cold water while we waited impatiently for you to submerge. Then, as if to torment us, you said, "I need to do my laps first." You sidestroked up and down the length of the pool. Other days you did the backstroke. Either way, your arms moved so slowly I wondered how you stayed afloat. Sometimes you hummed to yourself.

Finally, if you were in the right mood, you acquiesced and joined one of us on the inner tube for a round of "rickity-rockity." It must have been Dave who talked you into the game that day, as I was being nonchalant with Cindy on the lounge chairs.

The two of you pulled the tube over your head so you were standing face to face in the center. Gently, you each eased yourself up onto your side of the tube, bracing your feet against the opposite side to maintain balance. You held hands and slowly started to apply pressure to your feet, in turn, to start the rocking motion.

"Rickity-rockity," your voices sang out. "Rickity-rockity, rickety-rockity."

The two of you rocked back and forth, pushing harder and harder with your feet. The point was for one player to dislodge the other from the tube.

Finally, one of you lost control and went flailing over the other headfirst into the water. The one who remained with the tube was the winner.

I sat watching from the pool's edge, a little envious of your fun, to see who the victor would be.

Cindy raised her head from her towel and asked, "God, aren't you so embarrassed you could die?"

I remember, I still remember, not immediately understanding what she was talking about. Embarrassed about what?

I looked at you, Mom, with those silly daisies having a wild ride on your swim cap. You were laughing out loud (now we call that LOL). You were the only grown-up in the pool, but no one was paying any particular attention to you. Except Cindy.

I wish I had dumped Cindy as a friend after that and jumped into the pool to join the fun. But I didn't. Like most teens, I spent the next few years pretending I didn't have a mother.

But I get it now. Have enough fun to embarrass our kids now and then. It won't kill 'em. And maybe they'll even thank us someday.

• Carol Prentice is caught in the middle of life, work and family in Juneau.

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