- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

If I ever get a Ph.D. in parenting, I know where I’ll go to do my research: a hotel pool. A hotel pool is a microcosm of parenting styles — a virtual petri dish where one may observe a host of child-rearing tactics.

My doctoral thesis would begin with the observation that poolside parenting is inherently difficult. This is because it offers the delusion that an adult will engage in an activity that is fun and relaxing.

Such an adult — say, a mom — may come to the pool for a pleasant visit with a friend. If she is alone, she may bring a book or a magazine to the pool with the intent of reading quietly while her children swim and play.

She has her SPF 4 sunscreen — a no-no for the children — which she’ll slather on just before closing her eyes, spreading her fingers and toes, and drifting off on a coconut-scented dream.

Parents who do this are the people whose children run amok under the watchful, if not irritated, eyes of the non-visiting, non-reading, non-snoozing adults on the chairs nearby.

My thesis would include several case studies of this phenomenon, such as the ones I observed this week while on a family vacation. I’m positioned within splashing distance of the hotel pool, angled toward both the water and the sun, when two mothers stroll onto the pool deck.

Bounding around these mothers are two boys around the age of 10. One mom pushes her sleeping baby in a stroller (the kind in which an entire preschool could be transported).

The boys drop their towels, jump out of their sandals and grab their swim goggles, quickly heading toward the cool, refreshing waters of the pool.

The moms rearrange their chairs around an umbrella table, put the baby in a shady spot, organize their sunscreen bottles and diet sodas, and sit down for a chat. One of them positions her back to the pool, establishing the validity of my doctoral hypothesis: Some parents come to the pool to let others supervise their children.

Before long, the boys climb out of the pool and jump in again and again and again. Now they run and jump. Now one boy says, “Let’s run and dive in at the same time,” which they do — into the pool’s greatest depth, which is 5 feet. Let’s say that again for emphasis: the pool’s greatest depth, which is 5 feet.

My daughter emerges from the pool and approaches me to ask a question, standing close enough to me that the drips from her sopping-wet frame land on my warm, dry body, which is another reason adults can’t really enjoy going to the pool.

I use the opportunity to warn my daughter (and admonish the divers because I’m deliberately too loud), “Did you see those kids diving into the pool? Don’t ever do that. It’s totally unsafe, and diving is against the pool rules.”

When it looks as if the boys are getting ready for another death-defying dive into the shallow waters of stupidity, I speak up (loudly enough so their mothers could hear if they weren’t engaged in such an animated conversation), “Honey, you can’t do that. It’s very unsafe, and the rules say ‘no diving.’” I point to the rules at the side of the pool for effect.

One boy glances back with a face that recalls Robert De Niro’s cinematic classic line, “You talkin’ to me?” from the movie “Taxi Driver.”

Then, proving he has no respect for authority (I cited the pool rules, for heaven’s sake), he runs (not walks) to the far side of the pool and dives head first into the water directly over the words “Three Feet.” Lucky for him, he’s short.

I watch him surface, apparently unscathed, and then decide our swimming time conveniently is over. I don’t want to stick around long enough for the accident that most certainly is waiting to happen.

Of course, even if the mother of this aquatic daredevil had been paying attention and had asserted herself to enforce some basic rules of safety, there’s a good chance this boy might not have complied. That’s because earlier in his young life she might have employed the parenting style I observed in the management of little Adrianna, a hotel pool guest of about 24 months.

Adrianna — a name her parents and grandparents repeated no fewer than 462 times (but who’s counting?) as in, “Adrianna, do you want your duckie?” and “Adrianna, splash the water” and “Adrianna, say ‘cheese’” and “Adrianna, isn’t Daddy silly?”

Adrianna, Adrianna, Adrianna. This little girl may have issues later in life, but I doubt she’ll have an identity crisis.

Mostly, her loving family used Adrianna’s name while trying to coax her away from the pool when it was time to go.

“Adrianna, let’s get ice cream.”

“Adrianna, sit with Nanny.”

“Adrianna, here’s your toy.”

Those four adults tried everything they could think of to stop Adrianna from stubbornly returning to the edge of the pool, holding tight to her Minnie Mouse floatie.

The only thing they didn’t try was “Adrianna, no more swimming.”

Instead, when all the coaxing and pleading clearly wasn’t working, Adrianna’s dad got back into the pool, Adrianna’s mother handed her over to him, and off she drifted to the cooing sound of “Motorboat, motorboat, go so slow.”

I don’t think I’ll ever get that doctorate, but if I do, I’m getting a lifeguard whistle first.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 18 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybeth hicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@comcast.net.

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