Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sibling swim

The kids and I spent the afternoon yesterday at a nearby pond, and I was reminded anew of the lesson I seem to re-learn every summer: swimming is perhaps the one activity at which they always have fun together and they always get along well.

And maybe that’s why I have so much fun watching them. While I sit in a lawn chair on the beach, they plow through the water, indifferent to my curiosity about what they are doing. They race each other. They splash each other. They make up complicated games and obstacle courses. My book goes unread as I gaze over at them and contemplate how kids together in the water, at least for me, is a little like a sleeping infant or a fire in the fireplace: I just can’t take my eyes off the sight, even knowing I could be paying attention to something that would seem to be much more engaging.

Most of the time, my children get along fairly well. I always attribute this to the fact that being four years apart in age and different genders, they don’t find much to compete over. But by the same token, there often isn’t a lot they like to do together. Their interests and hobbies tend to be fairly divergent.

But all kids like playing in the water, and it is truly the one medium in which I can count on them to remain happy together no matter how long we stay. I know I could be catching up on the newspapers and magazines in my beach bag, but somehow I can’t pull my attention away from the fun they’re having.

Eventually, just as it’s getting close to time for us to leave, they ask me to join them in the water. But it turns out this isn’t because they want me to race or splash or try out their underwater obstacle course; they want to show me a synchronized singing act they’ve worked out, and they feel I need a close-up view of it. My sisters and I used to make up performances like this by the hour – we usually connected our water shows to an event such as my parents’ August anniversary, and to this day my sister will call me around that date and say “It’s almost Mom and Dad’s anniversary; have you choreographed the swim show yet?” Watching Tim and Holly raise their arms in synchronicity, then twirl and dunk, I contemplate the reach of genetic memory and laugh to myself; I’m guessing my mother and her sisters practiced a synchronized swim show or two in their day as well.

Yesterday was our first pond visit of the year. It shouldn’t still surprise me, after all these years, that my kids have such a good time together when I take them swimming. But somehow it still does. Water, sunlight and proximity make them treat each other far more affectionately than they do in the car, or in the house, or even in the yard. And bearing witness to the phenomenon remains one of summer’s greatest joys.

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