My nerves are on edge when we arrive, if I'm being honest. I tend to let our pathological inability to remember to bring enough beach towels convince me of my unfitness as a mother. But the day is sunny and we are here now, and the swimming pool is no place for issues (at least, not for those of us on either side of puberty).
We do our ritual sunscreen coating; it's an exercise in futility, if the brown shoulders I rub are any indication.
The dull splish of hundred stray splashes almost drowns out the radio over the loudspeakers. It's Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (flashback!), and I sing along. The ten year old notices, and it's clear he doesn't know whether to be embarrassed or impressed.
The eight year old wanders off to the snack bar, his dollar bill burning a hole in the Ziploc baggie in the beach bag. He comes back sucking a giant blue Ring Pop. His grin is satisfied, snaggle-toothed and, now, completely blue. He shows me the slobbery mess and tells me that he'll buy me a real ring just like it, someday, when he's a famous soccer player.
The younger kids lure me into the water. The heat index is well over 100, yet the water, impossibly, is 18 degrees. I feel very old; the kids easily maneuver, completely relaxed, while my cold muscles fight off shock.
In one of those moments that can't be explained, the four year old suddenly finds her courage. Yesterday she was in floaties, today she's doing back flips underwater. She surfaces with a proud and watery grin. She glows at my praise; she glows even more at her big brother's praise.
I climb back out and dry off, noticing that our (one) beach towel smells like a curious blend of fabric softener and chlorine.
The younger kids climb in and out, wearing a trail between the water, the snack bar, the bathrooms, and my lounge chair, where they visit often for my help in the arbitration of many diving-ring-related disputes. The ten year old engineers a game of Marco Polo with an impressively large crowd. The eight year old masters the diving board, getting nervier with every jump. The youngest dashes over to the kiddie pool and smugly reminds her brothers they're too big to join her. The oldest finds a lounge chair of his own, at a distance suitable for his twelve-ishness. I smile at him, but only occasionally, and with low expectations. He smiles back. That's enough for me.
I sit and watch the four of them, wishing I had four sets of eyes–and an unlimited summer–to take it all in.