I used to be the mom that would meet other moms at a splash pad.
I used to be the mom that would pack one bag for snacks and juice boxes, one with sunscreen, towels, extra clothes, extra bathing suits (for the kid who always has an accident), a bag with toys, water bottles, wet wipes, water guns, sunglasses, sand toys, garbage bags, and of course sweaters in case it got cold. Don't forget my purse and my other small bag that housed the small first aid kit I needed, and emergency kit of Chapstick, essential oils, lotion, tweezers and other small random things that I never thought I could leave home without. You know library books and sewing supplies that somehow just in case I am gifted with 23 seconds of no one needing me, I can get some "Me time". (Cause that totally happens when you are out at a splash pad with three kids.) Then I would stuff the stroller, piling it high so our need to have everything covered was taken care of. I didn't just plan. I over planned. (I think I just stressed myself out reading this.)
Now we have traded our half day trip to a special splash pad for our public wading pool at the end of our block.
We traded our 20 minute car ride for a 3 minute walk.
We traded our one hour of prep time to actually just heading out in our clothes, suits long forgotten and optional at best. (I love how all the kids in the hood just come and swim in whatever they are wearing, no one has towels and empty water bottles are the toy of choice.)
We learned to swim with our mouths closed tight because who know's whats in that inner city pool water.
(Actually I have seen some things in that water I wish I could un-see.)
We don't bring towels with us, choosing instead to drip dry on the cement or on the walk home. Instead of packing sunscreen and googles, we bring trash bags to pick up all the garbage that litters our streets.
We traded conversations about cartoon characters for big beautiful questions like, "What causes someone to start doing drugs? Do they use these needles or are there other ways to take drugs?" or "Why do people throw their trash on the ground? Don't they want to keep our neighborhood clean?" or "Why are there so many police sirens and shootings here?"
Right? Big. Hard. Questions about culture, about crime, about hurt and what we do with it and why it's here all the time. Questions that don't have easy answers. Questions that I can either answer with prejudice or judgement, or we can talk it through giving small insights and things to ponder. Mostly I answer with more questions urging my kids to think for themselves. Then at night we pray for what we do not know and ask God in all of his mercy and goodness to reveal himself to those who are hurting and grant us trust to live and love.
We traded planned play dates to walking down the street and kids running out of their houses to join us at the pool. As soon as we say park, it somehow sends a virtual message to other mothers I have never met that send their kids out doors and we all go to the park with the pool together.
I traded a suburban mindset for the inner city lifestyle.
I traded a host of expectations for the simple act of just living. Not planning, just experiencing.
I love watching the kids at the pool now. I love not being burden down with so much stuff.
I traded my preconceived ideas of necessity for a healthy dose of reality.
I traded mom's regulating everything their kids did with being helicopter parents to being the only parent at the pool and having my kids learn every bad word in the American language.
I traded the simple struggle of stuff with deeper struggles of fairness, culture, neglect, and a different set of rules. Rules that seem to apply to the hood and not in other areas of the city. Rules that shift and change and demand you pay attention so you know how to play the game. Struggles that leave kids that aren't yours in your care. Struggles that have kids stealing from you and playing with your kids and eating your food. Struggles to find a way to respect each other when language stands as a barrier between you.
I traded a perceived idea of safety with always feeling exposed and vulnerable.
I traded my false idea that I was in control with the harsh consciousness that my kids are exposed to all sorts of things I don't want for them on a daily basis. Yet, that demands my attention, and our conversations and processing about life means and what respect means and how prayer and faith fit into it all.
I traded what I once knew which was easy with what we understand now which is by far much more complex and tangled and messy. It's harder, but I like it a whole lot.
So now we swim. I bring my key and my phone and we walk out the door ready to embrace whatever adventure meets us on the way. It's our own inner city neighborhood swim club.
The thing you must realize is that I understand full well the privilege we have as college educated whites. We weren't living in great means and decided to move here. It's all we could afford, and being a one income family keeps us living here. However, we do have privileges and opportunities that many in my community don't have. I understand that we often choose to live simply, but for others, limited means is not a choice. My hood is a really mixed bag of folks. Race, culture, expectations, histories and stories. We are so incredibly diverse and that is the piece I love. Maybe some don't have a towel to bring. Others like our neighbors don't have a mother to bring them to the pool because they were left on the door step over a year ago. But others do have means and still they come to the pool with nothing but the clothes on their back just like us. So I don't sit here and make assumptions and judgements on others and what their story is. I am simply put, just thankful for the constant daily reminder that there is another way than the way I understood things before.
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