My first day back at work began with backwashing the pool, rescuing a frog from the filters, and watching a little boy’s classmates gather around as he fearlessly stuck his foot in the pool and proclaimed it “warmish-coldy,” inciting the other kids to scream in delight and dive in. Most days I think I have the best job in the world, not because I have somewhere to swim laps and get tan, but because of the people who come to the pool. When kids are ecstatic because I can touch the bottom of the 9 foot deep pool to retrieve their goggles, I feel happy. When I successfully take a girl’s wet hair out of her tightly wound bun without pulling a single strand, I feel happy. I’m happy when I’m tightening goggles, when I watch a child confidently take off her floaties for the first time all summer, and even after I’ve vacuumed the pool for two hours, because the bottom of the pool is completely spotless for members. I love my job and the people who are parts of it, but I also wish there were some things parents knew.
First of all, I don’t want your kids to see me as the bad guy. It is important that children are taught to respect the guard who's enforcing the pool rules, but be sure not to terrify your children so much that they don’t trust me. I want to get to know you and your children and form a friendship with them, and, more importantly, I need them to trust me if they ever have a first aid emergency. When a pool has a lifeguard, parents sometimes send their kids alone. If they do fall and scrape their knee, or get stung by a bee, they should feel comfortable asking me for help and be comforted by my presence.
I am not here to babysit your children; I’m here to ensure their safety. As a lifeguard, it is my job to take care of any poolside issues, but my main focus should always be on the water. If two of your children are in an argument over a toy on the deck while I’m trying to keep an eye on five little non-swimmers steadily moving toward the deep end, it makes the pool much safer if you, the parent, resolve the your children’s squabble so I don’t have to take my focus off those in the pool.
That said, if there is an issue, I am going to address it. It’s my job. I have a legal obligation, so I can’t just pretend to not see certain things. If you know you or your children are doing something that violates pool rules, please stop doing it. Not only does it add more stress to my job, but it teaches your kids that the rules do not apply to them.
Also, don’t encourage breath-holding games. Those can lead to drowning, and children don’t understand why I have to stop the fun. (This is even dangerous for high schoolers and adults.)
Take your children to the bathroom regularly, even if they don’t want to go. If they poop in the pool, I have to shut the entire thing down, and then the fun is ruined for everyone.
No, that wasn't thunder; it was a truck passing by. My chair faces the road. Trust me on this one.
Yes, to my best judgment, that was thunder. Everyone has to get out of the pool and stay out until it’s safe, even if you are going to leave in just a few minutes.
Don’t tell your kid, “Hey, do something crazy off the diving board so I can get a good picture,” because nothing scares me more (word for word what a dad told his child when I was on duty). A kid doing something dangerous might signal a great picture moment for you, but for me it signals the possibility of responding to my first spinal, which is something I hope to never have to do. Even if your child only does something mildly wild, kids are competitive and want to do something crazier than the guy that went before them. I love watching and fully approve flips and dives and cannonballs, but please don’t ever encourage your child to do something dangerous for the sake of a my-child-is-cooler-than-yours picture.
I would really appreciate if you left when it’s time for the pool to close. It’s incredibly awkward to have to kick you out, and some nights clean-up takes a long time.
Please don’t ever think I’m unapproachable! I don’t usually make eye contact when I’m on duty because I have to be scanning to pool, but I would absolutely love for you to come introduce yourself and your kids. With so many pool visitors each day, I can’t guarantee I’ll remember your name the next time you come, but I’ll remember you and have your name down before the end of the summer.
Lastly, sometimes things slip by me. I might miss your child’s tiptoe run (you know the one I’m talking about) by me because there is a baby toddling uncomfortably close to the edge of the pool that has grabbed my attention. Though I try, I can’t always catch everything. Please understand, and never hesitate to point something out to me if it makes you feel uneasy.
The pool isn’t just my happy place, but somewhere happy for everyone. If parents and guards work together to make sure the environment is fun and safe, we can ensure it stays that way.