Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Getting Schooled by the Pool

It began as a required feature during our house hunting spree five years ago. Pants and I wanted, no, needed a pool. Considering the fact that we suffer through 110 degree summers, feel a perpetual need to have fancy things around to attract friends, and harbor a nagging yearning to recreate the volleyball seen in Meet The Parents, it was more of a necessity than say a kitchen or bathroom.

You think I’m kidding.

The house on which we ended up settling was in a word, dumpy. But it had one hell of a pool. The first time I laid eyes on it, I thought it looked Olympic. Do they even make pools this big anymore? Certainly not, as it accompanied our 80 year old tudor. The pool came with a springy diving board to boot; I was giddy.

As Pants and the real estate agent were “envisioning” a complete remodel of the inside of the house, I was bouncing on the diving board in the rain donning my jacket and boots. Thoughts of margarita fueled swim parties fogged my head.

I was sold. We put an offer on the house that the owners couldn’t refuse. And since it was a seller’s market at the height of the bubble, we overbid. No one was getting this pool but me. No one.

The house needed so much work that we didn’t move in for eight months. I paid no mind. I went to my pool after work, on weekends and I swam in it lap after lap. Pants came along too. He had to. Someone had to oversee the demolition project inside the house. As he peered out the window covered in sawdust, I would wave during my backstroke.

I was happy.

Things began to change when we finally moved in. The pool turned on me, on us. The first red flag was the insurance agent. He told us we had to get rid of the diving board. He told us that it’s a liability waiting to happen. (If you jump at just the right angle, you can hit your head on the wooden patio overhang but only if you’ve been drinking heavily is there ever a chance of that happening, which knowing my guests, put the odds at probable.)

I freaked. There's no way we could get rid of the diving board. The property value alone would take a nosedive. Pants told me to calm down, that there was a way around this little snag.

So, we lied. “Yes, we will take it down.” We have since painted it with a grainy finish to really improve on the footing and grip. And this is after we were told that painting a diving board is not a good idea because you can’t see age defects or cracking in the board if it’s refinished. “It’s a liability.” Uh, yeah, we know that, but so is driving to work every day but you don’t see me scaling back that activity, now do you?

Then the pool started turning colors, a swampy green to be precise. It didn’t happen overnight. It crept up on us, starting with a slight Gatorade color. “Perhaps it’s the way the sun is setting, right, Pants?” I would sway back and forth, squinting my eyes from the kitchen window.

“Why yes," Pants would reassure me, "the sunset appears to be green this lovely evening.”

I knew we had to call in reinforcements when I was swimming one day and couldn’t see my own feet. So, we hired a pool guy, who told us that the thinger ma’ bobber needed a new motor. So we bought it.

That didn’t work.

Then another pool guy that we hired after “letting the other one go” told us that we needed to clean the filters every other day. So we did that.

That didn’t work.

Then Pants decided that he was going to tackle this little pool problem on his own. "No need to throw money at someone who isn't going to tell us how to fix the damn pool." So we began throwing money at troubleshooting. We spent nearly our mortgage payments on chlorine, metal free, acid, neutralizer, non neutralizer, de fogger, anti aging agents, algae controllers, and salt. Yes, even salt. And sometime Pants' efforts paid off, but only so far. The minute he would get it back from swamp to Gatorade, we would cheer with joy, knowing that a bright blue was within reach. But then we would have to add water due to evaporation, or was it a leak? And then we would head three shades back to swampland. I was afraid that I was going to lose something in it, like my bike, or my dog, like that Chihuahua found in the swamp in Florida after 19 days. Don’t believe me? Google it.

We began cancelling parties which is what I considered hitting bottom. Sorry, I would email, not this weekend. We are out of town. When friends asked if they could drop by anyway to take a dip (yes, we have a few friends under the category: "I am only friends with you because you have a pool and I am going to prove that fact while you are out of town this weekend and during the Winter when I will pretend not to know you), I would have to indiciate that the pool was under quarantine.

We began to retreat to the cool mountains, forgetting we ever had a pool or friends.

I gave up on that pool rather quickly, but Pants couldn’t let it go. It became an obsession with him. I would wake up at 6 a.m. and get breakfast ready for Yack. I would look everywhere for Pants, until I heard the scrubbing sounds of the Polaris. I would follow the sounds to the backyard, where I would see Pants sweeping the sides of the pool down in his pajamas. Stripy and flannel, if you must know.

Poor Pants.

Weekends were spent in hiding from our friends, with Pants driving back and forth and back and forth and “I have to make one more trip to the pool place before they close”. He would pour and clean and spray and take apart and put back together. I could add up the hours of time spent on the pool for you here, but I don't want to be responsible for spreading that negative energy around the world wide web.

On one particular evening, we were discussing Pants’ pool frustration with a sharp tongued and opinionated friend (those are my favorite). He told said friend that he had done everything he could do to that pool. He’s poured every type of product and cleaned every piece of equipment.

“There’s nothing else I can do”. He looked sad.

Snarky friend responds, “Why don’t you pee in it, see if that works?”

And that’s exactly what Pants did. He marched out the back door, stood at the water’s edge and proceeded to take a long, beer soaked leak into the pool.

But that didn't work either.

Then one day, the fifth pool “expert” came over and told us that the wood bench underneath the old and decrepit fiberglass at the shallow end of the pool was rotting - the cause of the green swampy tint. "It's probably making your skin itchy too." Funny, since it had been over a year since I swam in the damn money pit, I would be happy with a little itchy skin for the sake of a good ol’ half gainer.

Based on #5's assessment, Pants and I made the very difficult decision of draining the 30 thousand gallon pool (for the third time – our sincere apologies to our neighbors), and scrape off the fiberglass, take out the bench and redo the entire pool for the low low price of $eatbeansandriceforayear. Pants believed that by scraping off the fiberglass himself, thus exposing his lungs to asbestos and other unknown chemicals, it would save us a good chunk of the cost. It did, but if he keels over prematurely due to a rare form of lung disease, I am going to be pissed.

This little project took over three months, and cut into my pool time in a serious way. Alas and just in time for winter, the pool project was complete. And it was beautiful. Every shade of blue imaginable permeated through the glistening waters. I felt a sense of euphoria and a new found attraction to Pants. After an entire year of trial and error, my man mastered the art of pool maintenance. Perhaps we should start a side business.

But wait.

Winter ended.

Spring sprung.

And with the beautiful warm blue skies came an olive colored cesspool.

Pants ignored the change in our pool’s demeanor. He took off on a trip with his old high school buddies and drowned his sorrow in manly things and left me and Yack to stare at the pool in disgust. We attempted to ignore the pool by not making eye contact with it. We kept ourselves preoccupied with play dough and paints indoors with the shades drawn. We also went on long trips to the park. We even saw a pool at the local park, so inviting, so clean, so blue.

“Mommy, look, it’s a pool. Let’s go swimming.”

“No honey, we don’t have your bathing suit. Besides, we have a pool at home. Daddy is going to fix it when he gets home.”

“But that pool is yucky.”

When Pants got home from his trip, he called pool guy #6 who put Pants at ease the minute he arrived. He spoke in soft tones and used a lot of eye contact. He listened to Pants lay out the chronological trials of the pool while putting a supporting hand on his shoulder. If I wasn't mistaken, I might have even seen Pants shed a tear. I could be wrong about this as allergy season is approaching.

After assuring Pants that all will be right in the world, pool guy #6 dumped enough chlorine to blind a large elephant and told Pants to be patient.

That night, we went to bed anxious, hoping that pool guy #6 was here to save the pool, to save us.

And just as if it were Christmas morning in May, we awoke to azure beauty and a renewed hope for summer and our sanity.

So to my dear seasonal friends, you may return with your towels, your large brimmed hats and barbeque meat, for we are back in cannonball business. But make it quick. This blissful state of affairs is bound to be fleeting.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Stranger in My Own Land

Pants and I made a concerted effort to raise our son, Yack to be bilingual. When he was a mere fito. By the way, to my monolingual readers, fito means embroyo – a word I learned yesterday at the El Festival del Dia De Las Madres, but more on this later.

Pants wasn’t 100 percent sure on my whole bilingual idea but since he was hell bent on raising our child Catholic, he went along with it. Note: I didn't have any objection either, but I am the lazy version of Catholic – Episcopalean – did I spell that right? And after reading the cliff notes on Catholicism, I figure it was good to teach your kid to be kind to others, pray to God who is going to watch over you, and don’t judge. I wasn’t sure I had the requisite mom tools to do that all myself. I welcomed the church’s assistance.

Pants went along with my line in the sand because I was so accommodating to his. When mi fito was about eight months gestation, we began looking for a nanny who spoke Spanish. Our search didn’t take long because once we found Nena, the jig was up. We fell in love with her and her entire family. In fact, Nena is Yack’s God Mother. Papa Nena is Yack’s God Father. We are one big happy extended family.

Nena comforts me by speaking English because it’s glaringly obvious that her English is way better than my four years of high school Spanish. And so,through this little exchange, Yack seems to have mastered both languages, and Nena seems to be improving in English. I too just keep getting better at English. Hmph.

Part of the deal (in my own head) was that Nena would be mean and make me speak Spanish. We even tried this a couple of times. She would just start rapid firing her native tongue at me, but stopped after awhile when I just nodded and smiled. My head hurt, but she sounded so nice.

But as time progressed and our families became closer, there was many an opportunity for me to be hoisted into a whirlwind vernacular of unknown sounds and accents.

First, Tita and Tito. Nena’s parents. They do not speak English and when they visit from Mexico, it’s sink or swim time for me, which usually means I am two inches under water breathing through a straw. (Nena does very little translating unless I ask, and I don't ask.)

Do I feel self conscious, anxious, and well, dumb? That would be a yes. I can’t express how many times I have started a conversation with, “como se dice” – how do you say…

But it’s not just the language barrier that makes me feel that way. It’s also the culture. Sure, I feel very privileged to be a part of it. And I haven’t an ounce of regret for having our son grow up as a member of the Mexican community, but it sure can be intimidating. For instance, raise your hand if you are not Mexican and you know what a posada is..

Didn’t think so. This is a tradition that occurs during Christmas time. It’s a ritual reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. She is pregnant. They keep getting turned down. For twelve evenings, prior to Christmas, there are parties at a different house. This includes knocking on a lot of doors, singing Spanish songs, drinking hot chocolate and banging the crap out of piƱatas. And I offered to host one of the nights. How difficult could it be? I don’t know, how difficult is it to have twenty people in your house who don’t speak your language and are asking you where the bathroom is?

Cut through the anxiety, and there was me loving it, and sad that we didn’t do something like this around our neighborhood. I don’t even know the name of the guy on the corner. He has a nice dog, though.

Or, how about just yesterday’s Festival Del Dia De Las Madres? I went with Yack, Nena, Papa Nena, their boys and Tita and Tito. It was at their church which is also where Yack and Nena’s hijo go to school. Yack is the only non-Mexican kid (by skin color alone), and it doesn’t phase him at all. I am jealous of this.

The first half of Yack's class is in English and the second half is in Spanish. He exudes confidence during both times. In fact, one day I was helping in class during Diversity Week. La maestra was teaching the children about being different but celebrating and respecting those differences. “Class, who among you looks different?” Many brown arms darted towards the sky. And in unison without being called upon, they all said, "Yack!". When I looked at my son, he was beaming with pride. He scanned the room, relishing in all eyes on him and pointed to himself, “Me!” He smiled. He liked being different.

As we were standing in line to get into the gymnasium for the Festival Del Dia De Las Madres, I said to Tita which probably sounded like a preschooler in Mexico, that Yack is going to miss her when they leave and I asked her when her flight leaves. “Dos y media en la manana.” I got that no problem, but then she began to talk to me about the airplane, and I think sleeping was mentioned. And something about airplanes again.

We strolled into the Festival where I was pinned with a ribbon to indicate I was a madre. Yack was behind me but bolted when he saw his Mexican classmates from preschool. “Mira, Mami, es Diego..”

“Adios Yack..”

As I looked around the room, I noticed that I was Yack in the preschool classroom that day. I was the only white person there, and clearly the only one who didn’t speak Spanish. I was the different one.

Why was it that my son could handle diversity with ease and even thrive on it, but I was feeling that I didn’t belong there, that I was somehow intruding in on a piece of culture that wasn’t my own? Funny, everyone there was overwhelmingly kind and made me feel welcome with hand gestures and smiles. But the way I was feeling is probably how Nena feels when she is shopping, eating at restaurants, pumping gas, going to museums, parks, the ice cream store, getting clothes for the kids, going to the DMV.

Nena is an angel. She translated for me and handled the seating arrangement. She spoke in quick expressive tones to the hostess and introduced me to the Father. I decided that being there was good for me, and began to soak in the culture – the smell of beans, rice and corn tortillas wafting in the back, the mariachi music echoing on the gymnasium’s ceiling. The video of the fitos...

I sat in between Tita and Tito and began watching the video. It appeared to be a video of a fertilized egg, and then the fetus and then the embryo. I didn't contemplate the political undertones, merely took in the beauty of a little frog turning into a baby, then suddenly Tito hit me on the shoulder, pointed and said, Fito.

Tita laughed and nudged me with her elbow. I wanted to tell them both that I love them, that I think of them as family, that Yack says a prayer for them every night. I wanted to tell them that I think they are the warmest people I have ever met, and that their hearts are as big as two redwood trees, and that their culture makes me envious. I wanted to tell them that they are considered grandparents not only to Yack, but to us as well, because everyone loves grandparents. Not everyone loves parents. And I wanted to tell them that I will put them in my pocket and take them with me wherever I go, and that I feel safe with them. Saying all of this would have required a LOT of "como se dices?"

Instead, I just put my hand on Tita’s back and gave her a little rub. She kissed me on the cheek.

Maybe she knew what I was thinking. Maybe they both did.