I was at my buddy Chris' house, visiting and paying him back for all the help he's given me on mine. I've had him standing between the floor joists in my kitchen, and sometimes buying him a taste mole sauce dish isn't enough. Besides, I like working with him, I like his wife, and most of all, I like his children.
Chris and Kim have five kids. They aren't mean, or screaming all the time. They read and ask questions, and they smile when they see me. I like them, and I like spending time with them. So it's good to visit. We filled my truck with sand to mix in with the peat moss and spread it. We rototilled the soil. After planting a tree, a passel of hostas and spreading mulch he and I took his middle children over to the pool.
Chris got the idea that I could teach his kids a few things about swimming. I used to be on the swim team, was a lifeguard and had my WSI. I may look fat and old, but don't race me. So, yes, I do have some lessons to pass on. With kids, its wise not to get too ambitious, one lesson at a time. So I showed them the right way to do a flutter kick, and got them on the kickboard. Most important was making sure Chris understood as well so he could keep reinforcing the lesson. The key to a good flutter kick is keeping your knees straight. The kick uses your legs into a big lever. Or a swinging gate, if you prefer. Bend your knee and you lose the leverage. But locking your knees isn't natural. You have to think about your technique until it becomes second nature.
And we played. Joel is eight and Joanna six. I sculled around with my toes out of the water, chasing them with The Foot of Doom. Or the Foot of Smell, as Joel suggested. Which get them kicking to get away, and giggling like idiots.
On the side of the pool little Daniel watched, clutching his rubber duckie. He's barely four, a sweet trusting child with a smile for everyone. But he's scared of the water.
Well, that's nothing unusual. Lots of people are scared of water. Red Cross teaching methods have ways to deal with that as well. Get them wet. Keep them wet, but in stages so the fear breaks down slowly. So I sidestroked over to the side of the pool, picked the boy up and brought him in with me.
We sat quietly at the side of the pool for a time, his tiny arms wrapped around my shoulders. He was cold and terrified, but his parents are gentle and patient, and as Dad's friend, I was someone he could trust. So held his chest in my hands and talked softly to him, reassuring him. I took time, more than a few minutes. But his shivering stopped, his voice calmed and Daniel's wide, gap-toothed grin returned.
Chris always told me, "Children don't understand Quality Time. They understand time." You can't bond on a schedule. Holding that little boy, I understood for the first time what makes children so very special.
I'm 45 and I've never married. Not that I haven't wanted to, but Lady Luck doesn't smile much upon me in that way. I have no children. My life is full of books, good friends and racing cars. Holding that little boy it really sunk home how much I've lost.
Children are so tiny, so vulnerable. Daniel almost felt like a toy resting on my knee. From his very dependence came in different form of intimacy, one built upon trust.
Now I understand why parents dote upon their children, put up with drum practice before the child can play, put up those silly 'Baby on Board' signs. It's the love of a puppy or cat, yet brimming with potential. Children have so many moments where they take a step forward, become a bit more like the men and women they will grow into. Parents get to be there for so many of those moments.
But I'm 45. The women my age have either had their children, or don't want any. I can't blame them either. My opportunities are probably gone. But Chris's kids like me, and well, I have visiting privileges.
At least I get to borrow children.