Face your fears

“There was a faint, barely perceptible movement of water at the fresh flow from one end urged its way toward the drain at the other. With little ripples that were hardly the shadows of waves, the laden mattress moved irregularly down the pool. A small gust of wind that accidental course with its accidental burden. The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing like the leg of transit, a thin red circle in the water.

 It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson’s body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete.” F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby

The other night my wife and daughter and I were invited to a 75th birthday party. It was for a woman we knew through church, and my wife in particular has become close to her over the last few years, since our daughter was born, so we were honoured to be included. The party was to happen at the woman’s daughter’s house, and it was to be a surprise, so we were to be there by 6 pm. As it turned out, my one of my aunts was also invited to this party, as she is neighbours with the birthday girl. We ended up picking her up and giving her a ride over. I will admit I felt a little bit like Wooster picking up his Aunt Dahlia for a night out. That feeling lasted until we pulled up at the party. Then it was all Gatsby for the rest of the evening.

If you have to characterize my wife’s attitude towards my daughter when out in the world in one word, it would be “worry-wart”. I see it as just an expression of how much my wife loves for and cares about our daughter, but it can sometimes impact on the enjoyment of things. For example, last summer we were in Toronto and we had an evening planned out with one of my childhood friends and his wife and two-year-old son. They happen to live on the 9th floor of an apartment right downtown, and the entire time we were there, my wife was on high alert. I really think she thought Audrey was going to suddenly jump up, make a run for the patio doors, fling them open, jump on a table and over the rail and that would be that. It got so unbearable that we went out into the street for a bit, where my wife worried that she would get lost in Chinatown (racist!) or maybe get hit by a truck (not racist, but equally unlikely!). My friend’s apartment has a nice rooftop patio where they have a couple of BBQs and loungers and stuff, and we went up there to cook some steaks and hang out, but my wife was in such a state (again, UNLIKELY anything bad would happen) that we had to leave the patio and go back down into the stuffy apartment, eat up fast and get the hell away from THE CITY and back to the suburbs before anything bad could happen. It wasn’t a great visit, as you can imagine.

So on the way to this birthday party, my wife was telling me all about the dangers of trampolines, and how kids can break their necks on them, not by falling off, but by experiencing something mysterious called the “double bounce”. I guess it’s sort of like getting whiplash? Maybe? Anyway, trampolines are out, and don’t even get her STARTED on swimming pools.

So you can imagine my horror when I parked the car and walked up the driveway and around to the back of the house following the party sounds, only to see before me a trampoline and a swimming pool. And not just any swimming pool, but an olympic sized lap pool with a very deep end and diving board, and a huge (I’m going to say olympic-sized, even though I couldn’t possibly know) trampoline with no netting around the outside. We might as well have walked into an abottair with rotating blades and nozzles shooting herbicide into the crowd, as far as my wife was concerned. But I was wrong! By the time I got the car parked and came to the party, she already had a glass of wine in her hand and had joined a circle of ladies in the corner of the yard. Where was our daughter, Audrey? Oh, there she was, hanging out with my aunt, but keeping a keen eye on the trampoline and the pool.

And this party: it really did feel like I stepped into one of Gatsby’s soirees. There were hired people to serve us cocktails, and there was an actual guy in a white top and a chef’s hat (chef’s hat!) getting a BBQ buffet supper prepared for all of us. My wife was smart to wear an evening dress. I was in a pair of shorts and a plaid summer shirt and ball cap. I looked like I should be at the beach, but no one seemed to mind.

There were a few kids at this party, but they were all older than our daughter. Nevertheless, she broke away from my aunt and headed over to the trampoline. I followed.

“Daddy. I want to bounce on there!” I looked around, no one else seemed to paying attention to us, and even though this was turning out to a fancy party  (the cook was wearing a chef’s hat!), why would a trampoline be out here if not to be enjoyed? Like Chekov’s gun, if you introduce a trampoline at the start of an evening, you just know something is going to bounce by the end of it. That thing, it turned out, was my daughter. I stood right by her, acting as a really ineffective spotter. Does anyone remember elementary school? The trampoline would come out once in a blue moon, on a schedule like Halley’s Comet or the McRibb, and each kid had a turn on it. You were supposed to do “tricks” like the pike and the hungarian slipknot (I made that one up), but most of the time kids just bounced. I was actually terrified of the fucking thing, and always tried to let other kids go ahead of me, and silently offered a prayer of thanks when the period buzzer went and that meant I didn’t have to do it today, and if I played my cards right, the teacher would lose track and I wouldn’t have to do it next time either. Those that weren’t bouncing had to stand around the perimeter of the tramp, with the idea being that if anyone took a wrong step or bounce, the spotter would be able to push them back into the centre of it. I don’t know about you guys, but whenever anyone came bouncing our way, us spotters just involuntarily got out of the way and the poor sucker ended up on his or her head on the gym floor. No wonder I was scared of it.

But anyway, here was my daughter, bouncing merrily away on this thing. She had the sense to take her party sandals off first, and I kept saying, “Careful, careful. Easy. Easy!” quietly, as to not disturb the fancy party goers but loud enough that my daughter would hear (not that she would pay me heed anyway). Soon, a couple of the older kids joined us, and to their credit, were really patient with Audrey. They let her bounce, and they acted as de facto spotters. I kept trying to catch my wife’s eye, to see if what I was doing was okay, but she was engrossed in some adult conversation and never looked over my way. Surely she saw all this bouncing? The backyard was large, but you can’t miss a trampoline. My daughter was getting adventurous and was intentionally rolling off the trampoline onto the grass. Now I KNOW that isn’t safe. right? I mean, COME ON, but still. She seemed to be fine, and no one seemed to mind, so I let her do it a few more times. The problem was, this backyard was just recently landscaped (the house was, as I mentioned, in a newer development), so every time Audrey landed on the lawn, a bit of the sod got turned up. It was still wet from being watered that afternoon, so it wasn’t before long that her feet were quite muddy.

This wouldn’t have been a problem if we had stayed outside, but Audrey, always the ringleader, had decided to hop down off the tramp one last time and led the two older kids inside the house! (and by house I mean mansion. It looked like the type of place you might find a Miami Vice era drug lord hanging out, or maybe the kind of place where one might film some classy high-end pornography. Not that cheap stuff.) All concrete and sharp angles. Her muddy feet tracked across the wet deck around the pool, somehow got muddier and they disappeared inside. I tried to go around the other side of the pool to head them off, but I was waylaid by my aunt and wife. “Isn’t this just the most fun party?” my aunt stopped me to ask. “Um, where’s Audrey?” was my wife’s question.

“Yes, yes. Total fun. I think she went inside. I’m going after her.”

I slid open the patio doors and entered the house. It’s always a bit of strange feeling to enter a house you’ve never been in before. Your eyes adjust to the relative interior gloom and since neither of the hosts actually invited me in, I felt a little bit like a trespasser. I was in the kitchen, and the chef-hatted chap was busy.

“Hi. Did a little girl just come in here with a couple of other kids?” I asked him.

“Sure, but I didn’t see which way they went.”

I looked into the living room, where they had white leather couches and pillows, naturally, and I could see where Audrey had been. Like Billy’s route from “The Family Circus”, Audrey’s muddy feet betrayed her. It wasn’t super obvious, but I knew what I was looking for, and I could see her footprints making their way from the kitchen, up onto a couch, across the white shag carpeting and up on to the other couch. But no Audrey. I had images of Annie flipping all around Daddy Warbucks’ mansion, and I don’t think the analogy was far off. I stumbled ahead to what I thought was the bathroom, and sure enough, I could hear water running on the other side of the door. I took a chance.

“Audrey? Are you in there?”

A pause.

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Can you let me in?”

Another pause.

“I’m going pee.”

“That’s fine. But could you let me in? You shouldn’t have come in here on your own.”

She opened the door, and I was greeted with a crazy sight. Sure, she may have peed in the toilet, but she had taken a huge wad of toilet paper and had wetted it in the sink and was trying to scrub the mud off her feet! The bathroom was a total mess, and I was more concerned about getting her away from the scene of the crime than I was about cleaning up the mess. I tried to do a little clean up on her feet, but reader you can imagine that a wad of wet toilet paper doesn’t really have the best scrubbing properties. I wetted a cloth towel and tried to get the worst of it off her, before flushing and then moving out. I prayed there wasn’t anyone waiting for the washroom when I came out but I was wrong. There was. But it was okay. It was my wife. She looked horrified.

“What is going ON here?” she whispered. I couldn’t speak. The crime scene spoke for itself, and my wife took Audrey back into the bathroom and closed the door. They were in there QUITE SOME TIME, and by the time  they came out, my daughter’s feet and the bathroom itself were considerably cleaner. Much later, our daughter offered a whispered confession, “Daddy, I also jumped on a bed.”

It was time for supper.

Supper was delicious, as you could imagine, and soon it seemed like it would be time to go. We almost got away from here without any major incident, but my wife had no intention of leaving quite yet. “It would be rude to just take off after supper!” She’s probably right, of course, but we were pushing 9 pm, and I thought by the time we got my elderly aunt home and ourselves, it would be understandable if we left when we did.

And this is when the second horror of the night, the swimming pool, came into play.

We were just about to leave (I had already announced to my aunt to get her stuff together) when one of the older kids at the party appeared in his swimming trunks and jumped right in the pool! He was paddling around as if it were the right thing to do, and of course Audrey wanted to get right in there too. We didn’t bring her swimmies with us (we didn’t even know there would be a pool there) but the hosts were very generous and before I knew it, Audrey was wearing some other kid’s t-shirt and life jacket and was floating around in the shallow end. She was fearless (unlike her Dad) and in my midst of my anxiety, I had to confess a certain level of fatherly pride in her ability to just go into a total stranger’s pool at a fancy dinner party and not worry about it. But I couldn’t stop worrying. She was paddling around happily, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the pool. Again, I tried to meet my wife’s eyes, but here she was now, in a different circle of ladies, sipping on some coffee that had just been handed to her. I guess we weren’t going anywhere for awhile. I went to tell my aunt, but she had already figured it out. She had gone back to her perch and was also sipping something warm. This was when the host saddled up to me and started to give me well-meaning, but ultimately unwanted advice. The thing with pool people is that they are usually SUPER LAID BACK about the water and also believe that anyone that isn’t completely comfortable around water must have something wrong with them. He kept telling me stuff like “kids pick up on their parent’s anxiety so as long as you’re not anxious, the kids won’t be either” or some bullshit like that. But the thing is, I wanted my daughter to be anxious, at least a little bit. I mean she’s too damn young to know that you CAN drown if you’re not careful, and she can’t even swim, she hasn’t even had one single swimming lesson. I should know, when I was about her age, (maybe a little bit older), I was at some pool party with a bunch of kids. It was at some cousin of my Mom’s, I think. I was not a strong swimmer then (or now, if truth be told) and I knew it, so instead of kicking and laughing and splashing with the other kids, I was clinging to the side of pool with both hands and slowly making my way around the outside, like a shipwreck survivor clinging to a piece of flotsam or maybe even jetsam. These were the days before pool noodles. I made my way away from the shallow end and in over my head when I passed one of those jets that keep the water circulating. The force from the jet was unexpected and I was pushed away from the side of the pool into the middle of the deep end. I couldn’t touch bottom and panicked, I started splashing, but it happened so fast I didn’t think to cry out, just like how in the moment of crisis in the car you never think to use your horn in time (at least I don’t). I sunk under the water, slipping down, slipping away. The rush of water was in my eyes and my last thought was, “I’m going to drown in this pool, and it’s not at all unpleasant, actually, but no one is going to get to me in time, and I really really really wish I didn’t succumb to peer pressure and I wish I just stayed on the deck but that wasn’t an option so here I am and I am never going to finish “Tintin and the Explorers on the Moon” and….” and SPOILER: I didn’t drown, obs. I’m here, silly. Telling the story. What did happen though, was that one of my grown up cousins saw me slip under and dove in the pool without thinking and fished me out. I coughed and spluttered on the deck, but I was fine. I was just super embarrassed and wanted out of the spotlight as soon as I could. I dried off, got changed, and stayed in the house for the rest of the afternoon, as far away from that fucking pool as possible. And hey, cousin Bob? Thanks, man. I owe you one.

Where was I? Oh yeah, my irrational fear of pools being projected onto my fearless daughter. Trampolines and Pools. Audrey seemed totally fine, but I knew how quickly things could turn, so I never took my eyes off that pool. I didn’t even remember asking for a coffee, but I must have, because here the host was, offering me up a cup. I took it from her with shaking hands, and brought it to my lips. But the house’s concrete and sharp angled motif was carried over into their ceramics, because the mug I held in front of me did not have a circular lip like 99.4% of the world’s mugs. Instead, this mug was square. But not even square, actually. Four sides, sure, but all at different, weird angles. What’s that called? A quadrilateral? My nerves were shot, obviously, and I was more than ready to go home. As I raised the mug to my lips with my shaky hands, the hot coffee spilled out of one of the quadrilateral’s corners and all down my front.

The holocaust was complete.

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