I always loved the water. It was a quiet and peaceful respite for me growing up as a city kid. When I was young, my family would retreat to the Catskills and later, the Poconos, to rustic rentals my parents could afford on their artist and teacher salaries. There, in the modest concrete pools and placid lakes, I learned how to swim, and when I was 15 years old, I passed my lifeguarding course. I proudly took my post on the big chair, armed with a rescue tube and a walkie-talkie to call in emergencies...of which I had none. Most of my lifeguarding “career” (four-and-a-half summers) had to do with keeping the beach clean and the bathers safe. It was more like daycare than Baywatch.
But the job experience primed me for motherhood. There is no tougher measure of water endurance than the lifeguarding test, which included treading water for more than three minutes while holding a ten pound brick over my head. More importantly, lifeguarding ingrained in me a deep respect for the water. My children learned to swim early on, and, while that doesn't mean I take my eyes off them when they are in the pool, it does free them to be independent in the water. And that's what parenthood is, right? Teaching them everything they need to know to make it on their own.
Here are some of the ways being a lifeguard prepared me for being a mom:
I Am Vigilant About Bathtime Safety
I knew way before reading any child-rearing books that a kid can drown in a tiny amount of water. I always kept a hand on my babies when bathing them and, whether it was nurture or nature, both my kids have always loved the water.
My Children Learned To Swim As A Life Skill
To really enjoy the water, you have to hold your own in it. I want my kids to build on their stroke and diving skills, which not only serve their physical health, but grows their confidence as they master new tricks. How could I ever put them on a boat if they couldn't swim? Like learning to cross streets, to me, swimming is an essential life skill.
My Peripheral Vision Is On Point
After mastering the art of keeping watch over a beach full of bathers without anyone drowning, I can easily spot my kids out of the corner of my eye. Literally.
Using A Loud, Clear, Firm Voice Comes Easily
At five feet tall, I don't command much authority. But put me on top of a lifeguard chair and give me a whistle and that all changed. That boost in confidence helped to develop my "lifeguard" voice, which was mostly used to stop kids from aiming their Super Soakers at innocent victims. I now employ that vocal register to keep my own kids from killing each other as cabin fever sets in on winter weekends.
I Can Tell A Fake Injury From A Real One
My kids love to feign sickness to get them out of putting their clothes in the hamper or getting dressed for karate. But after years of tween boys having fun by pretending they were drowning victims, I can tell the real deal. Real drowning looks nothing like you'd expect.
I Can Stop A Kid From Running In Two Seconds Flat
My shifts at the pool were mostly spent barking "Walk!" to kids skidding past me on the slippery deck. Nothing's changed, except the kids are my own now.
I Am Certified In CPR
I was first certified in my tweens, as part of my junior life-saving course. So years later, when my husband and I took an infant CPR and First Aid class, it was more of a refresher than a cram session. I can't think of anything scarier than your baby needed emergency help, and as a parent, not being able to provide it.
I Worship Sunblock...
Tanning is a something our foremothers did. Luckily, our generation is less into baking ourselves until we're darker than nature ever intended for us to be, and more interested in, like, not getting skin cancer. Plus, sunburns are the worst. I've been slathering on the SPF 50 for decades, and make sure my kids are coated too.
...And Any Lotion, Actually.
Between the water and sun exposure, lifeguarding really exacerbated my dry skin. I stash moisturizer everywhere because I hate that tight, parched feeling. My son is prone to eczema so we are hyper-vigilant about keeping his skin moisturized. At five, he may be the world's biggest coconut oil fan.
I Can Get Sand Out Of Pretty Much Anything
Sitting And Staring At Other People Playing Was Good Training For The Playground
Lifeguarding was less about being a hero and more about being observant. All that sitting and watching I did at the water is a "skill" (and yes, it's a skill to not fall asleep while you just look at people for hours) I apply today at the park with my kids.
I Know The Truth About The “No Swimming For 30 Minutes After Eating Rule”
This decree only applies to hot dogs. Because when do you feel like doing anything after eating hot dogs?