Saturday and Sunday mornings during the summer, I usually get up around 8:30 and go swimming for nearly an hour in one of our community’s pools.
Swimming is my time to think, dream, work through problems. If I can find my rhythm, which I usually do, my body feels like a well-oiled machine as it slips through the water. It feels beautiful. More than that, when I swim outside, I get to enjoy the beauty of the sun as it’s just barely making its way over the tops of the trees that hover around the pool, casting dappled light over half the pool. The birds are out gathering their food or taking sips of water. The air is still crisp, which makes being in the pool seem like a warm sanctuary. Best of all, though, is that normally there aren’t any people. Most people don’t start arriving until around 10 AM.
There is a family who lives up by the big pool in my community, I’ve seen them a few times before. The dad brings a kit for testing chlorine levels and is very militant about checking the levels and announcing to his family of two little boys and his wife whether the water is safe or unsafe. They usually arrive just after 10 AM. If I’m running late, I usually see them there.
I remember a particular Saturday that occurred last September in great detail, because most of this post was originally written, but saved as draft, after that experience.
The younger boy, maybe 4 or 5, ran over to the jacuzzi and went to hop in. His dad was hot on his tail and proceeded to berate the child. Telling him things like, “Dude, you know you don’t go in there! Look at the water! It’s green and yucky. How many times have I told you, when the water’s like that you don’t go in. Look, sheez, it’s only at 85°, that’s disgusting!” The little boy sniffled and walked over to his mom for reassurance.
The older boy did something and the little boy retaliated, just in time for his dad to catch him, but not his brother. His dad hit him in the middle of his back with his fist, a place he couldn’t reach to rub the pain away, causing (I assume) a charlie horse. His little back arched ineffectively to avoid the pain and the little boy started to cry. The dad berated him, yet again, telling him to behave, not to bother his brother. He was sent to time-out on one of the chairs.
At that point, I finished my laps and went over to shower. The mom and older boy got in the pool, the younger boy slowly joined them where laughter and giggles ensued. The dad got in the pool and swam over to his wife, the youngest boy was holding onto his mom. As his dad approached, in excitement, he let go of his mom and swam to meet his dad. Somehow, something happened that his dad popped him with his elbow in his face. I’m not sure what was hit, his nose or his eye, there was no blood, but his hands were covering both and the crying was immediate and loud.
I should note at this point that it was an accident on the dad’s part, at least I hope so, but also, that the little boy’s crying was authentic. It was real tears, from real pain.
The dad immediately responded to his son’s tears by yelling in exasperation, “You can’t just swim up to me when I’m not expecting it! I didn’t see you. Jeez! You’ve got to let a person get situated before you go swimming up to them! I didn’t see you!” There was no apology, no coddling, not even any apparent affection. Just… meanness, excuses and blame placing.
They’d been there less than 5 minutes and I was starting to feel stressed. Beyond that, though, I just felt sad. Going to the pool is supposed to be a fun thing. Something you do during the summer for laughter and relaxation. That poor kid had spent most of his time there crying and in pain and … as best I could tell, he was just being a kid. He hadn’t even done anything wrong to warrant that kind of discipline. Was that even discipline — to hit your kid in the middle of his back and berate him? Worst of all, the tears and pain were caused by his dad, someone who should be protecting and loving him. And what about their mom?
I mean, I received discipline growing up, I certainly got my fair share of spankings and talkings-to. Although truth be told, I was one of those kids who, if you looked at me sideways I was in tears, but still… my point is, I believe I know the difference between discipline and abuse. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a well placed swat on a child’s behind or firm words… but this was something entirely different.
Watching them, it made me hurt inside. I felt tears welling up and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. And I’ve asked myself if there were something I should have or could have done? I don’t know… what those kids were experiencing was definitely emotional abuse, but the rest of it wasn’t enough for action to be taken by anyone official because the child wasn’t visibly harmed.
How does one get to the point in their life that they don’t even see the perfection standing in front of them in the form of a beautiful wife and two healthy little boys?
What resurrected the remembrance of this post is that I saw them again last week.
In the eight months since I saw them last, the younger boy has had a growth spurt and is the same size as his older brother. I think he remembered me from last year, because he looked at me sidelong behind his dad’s back and gave me the most beautiful of smiles. Or maybe he just thought I was funny looking. Whatever the cause, I found myself smiling back at him.
The father hasn’t changed, he is still as controlling as he was last year. Yammering on and on non-stop about “you’re being stupid” and “don’t do that” and demeaning stuff like that. But the little one has changed. He’s grown. And there’s also an intangible change that I noticed. He seems more aware of people around him. As if he’s realized there’s a world beyond the controlling person who is his father.
I thought to myself that someday, that little boy is gonna grow up and be bigger than his dad… and someday, I predict that father will have a day of reckoning.