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An Open Letter to the Mom at the Pool

parenting May 25, 2021

First, I just want to say that I totally get that this more than likely was not your goal. I can almost bet that you didn’t find out you were pregnant with that sweet boy and immediately went into your diabolical plan to steal his joy. I know you didn’t target being stressed and wondering how you were going to get through the day without killing anyone (figuratively and somedays might feel like literally).
I get you were probably one of us that thought about all the toddler snuggles, the handmade artistry of the 6 yr old on the fridge, the crafty mother’s day gifts where your name is spelled beautifully wrong and the bedtime stories.
During those glorious 9 months, you probably took more time trying to get you right as a mother before you even became one… like so many who came before you. Reading every book and website you thought would tell you something you didn’t already know and fielding all of the advice of the well-intentioned strangers that got a glimpse of your belly.
If you were like the majority of women in society, you began judging you well before you began to judge him. This is NOT your fault. This is how we do it here. You are most likely just doing what you were taught… if not by example, then by…. Let’s call it osmosis.
That day at the pool, I sat with my feet dangling in the water watching our kids play nearby each other. I watched as your daughter looked up to your son while equally desiring to totally antagonize him. I watched as he showed gratitude to have someone to play with in the pool, all the while wishing maybe that it was a boy his age instead. But, there they were… making the best of it. They shared some very beautiful moments while you scrolled on your phone. And for full transparency, the only reason I was sitting at the water’s edge was because my phone charger cord wouldn’t reach there, so it was a way to force myself to be more present. I don’t desire this to sound like any of this letter has anything to do with someone being a horrible parent because they are choosing to live in a connected world.
Because my head wasn’t in my phone at this moment, I was able to watch all of the nuances of your children’s interactions. It was an ebb and flow of who had control and who was fighting for the position. There was also tenderness. Moments where your son was concerned about your daughter under the water and would reach down to pull her to surface. Or when she splashed him in the face and instead of gloating, she smiled and melted his world and that seemed to do the trick.
I know you didn’t see it all from where you were sitting. The pool was pretty full that day and seating was limited.
The thing I found unfortunate was that you were pulled to the pool in such a haste because of what you decided you did see from your obstructed view.
I had a reaction of PTSD in my body when I saw you coming. I don’t know you but, even with your sunglasses on, I knew you were pissed. I started to shake the way that I did when my father would approach me with intensity. It was a nano-second and I was back there. Peering up at his angry face, wondering how I got it wrong again. Deciding what was my best choice this time, shut up and let him yell, defend myself and get no further (or worse, more punished)… or consider what I could say that would make him happy instead? It all passed through my body and my head… and it didn’t take me long to realize that those thoughts weren’t even mine. They were coming from your son. I was perceiving the fear in his world that I was so accustomed to as well.
I watched as you thrust your body into the pool and abruptly waded your way across the shallow end… leaving a wake from your waist. As you approached, I was curious what your son was going to choose. He chose to just endure. You grabbed him by the neck. You pulled him from his sister’s proximity (did you happen to notice her face during this moment, I did). You began to tell your son what a scene he was making in the pool amongst the other 12 kids who were playing, laughing and splashing. You told him how much he embarrassed you and that if he did it again, you would pull him out by his hair and it would be his fault that the vacation was ruined. Proudly, you then slowly exited the pool. It was almost as if you didn’t even notice that you had just created a spectacle of your son. YOU did that, not him. And even more interesting to me, the thing you thought you saw, it didn’t happen. It just looked that way from the place you were sitting. You seemed to desire to defend your daughter against your son and yet, one glance at her face and you would’ve been able to tell that she didn’t desire it. You see, she seemed to have a choice to make as well. She had to choose to have you hear her when she was telling you that nothing had happened, or possibly risk getting caught in the crossfire I suppose. She chose a “loud whisper” to tell you that nothing was wrong. You couldn’t hear her over the noise of the pool and your own voice.
You left the pool, but the energy of devastation was still mucking up the water a bit. My girls, 12 & 9 continued to play but were a little less joyful because they could perceive how low your son now was. Your daughter was interested in playing but your son wasn’t ready to immerse himself again. Another kid was getting a strict talking to by their father for staring at you when you were disciplining your son and it seemed like they were now being told they had to sit out. You sure did create a ripple effect.
After a few minutes, your kids had found their way back to each other. They began laughing and playing again and it seemed like the bandaid strategy of his worked. He temporarily covered the hurt so that he could recoup some of his joy!
You went back to your seat and settled back in under your umbrella with your iphone and the day went on.
It was about 20-30 mins later that I felt a sudden pull across the way where you had been sitting. I looked over and found your face. But it wasn’t me who you wanted to look at you. You were attempting to telepathically yell at your kids and they weren’t hearing your screaming thoughts from where you sat. I watched them as you watched them and I had a hunch that from your vantage point, it did not look good for your boy.
See, your kids were playing some sort of game that involved dunking each other. They had done it probably 10-15 times before you got wind of it. They were laughing and playing but the moment you looked up, it was like your daughter just KNEW. And she started to act agitated with your son. He seemed to not be as quick to pick up on these energetic cues. He kept on playing and wasn’t noticing her switch in behavior.
Being they weren’t responding to you, you chose a different approach this time. You entered the water quietly. I was hoping you were choosing to just get a closer look before you jumped to conclusions. I was so happy to see that. But, I was wrong. You were planning a sneak attack.
Like the 1980’s thriller JAWS, you crept in slow as to not be recognized and as your son began to swim away from his sister, unaware that you were mere inches behind him, you grabbed him but the back of the neck again. This time, he attempted to defend. He started semi-shouting “We were just playing! We were just playing!” And without any question of either kid, you insisted that you knew what you saw and that that was the end of the day.
Both kids followed you out of the pool as they were instructed to and the slump in your son’s shoulders and his demeanor, I may never forget. Truly, all of his joy had been stolen out of his world. I could perceive the lengthly thought pattern that was emerging from his head as if thought bubbles were forming as he walked. And…possibly even more concerning… I could see how this was the start of where he was going to learn how to parent his kids.
I’m not going to pretend to know you or your kids. Because I don’t. I am very aware that I saw just a snapshot in time. This day does not define you, your kids or your relationship. You are not a bad mom, nor are you wrong. It may have been just one of those days that we all have. You most likely love your kids very much and I’m sure they love you too.
I want to do something that you could’ve chosen that day that might’ve changed something or created a different result…
I’d like to ask you a question.
What does it feel like to have someone glance into a moment in your life and announce what they see? Do you feel heard and seen or projected at and invalidated?
This is what you did to your kid’s that day.
You caught a moment and chose to react.
Had you asked them a question… a true question without your conclusion attached, you may have been able to see another possibility; something else you could choose.
One of the most untapped resources in parenting is the power of the question. True question is the bridge from being what others tell you you have to be and finding out what you know you can be.
Questions, especially with kids, open new awareness and new choice. Asking a kid a question about what their choices are creating and if they are enjoying the outcome is one of the ways that they can access what they know about who they want to be in the world. You have that power as a parent. The power to Empower them to know that they know.
Today, a reaction with no question resulted in a ruined pool day. But, if you layer each moment of stolen joy without question over a lifetime, I worry that tomorrow it will be something else.
What future are you desiring to create with these beautiful children?
One where they perceive their value and know how to address conflict with a sense of self… or one that they have to cower and suppress in order to be received?
One last thing, I chose to write this letter to you not because I judge you as the problem with the world… but because I see you as a possible solution! You would just have to choose it.

Sarah Grandinett


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