Summertime in Wisconsin is awesome. I love almost everything about it.
I say almost everything because there are 3 things I don’t like. I don’t like pulling weeds, because if you have undiagnosed OCD, that chore is never done.
I don’t like doing my hair in the summer, because it tends to get frizzy in high humidity. And in July and August in Wisconsin, the air is 86% water.
Also, I hate shorts. I do sometimes wear them. Because it’s hard to ride a bike in a maxi dress. But shorts are one of those items of clothing – like microminis, and tennis skirts – that were obviously invented by someone who had attractive knees.
But I love everything else about summer. Growing vegetables in our garden. Waking up to the sound of birds because the windows are open. Getting up to close the windows, so I can get two more hours of sleep because the birds get up too damn early. And lounging around on those those long, languorous summer days, when I have nothing to do except fetch my kids a snack, roughly every 4 minutes.
Summertime in Wisconsin is when you really see people. And I mean, see people. It’s not like the winter, when you barely recognize anyone, because they’re encased in thermal underwear, and embedded inside a puffy parka and a giant pair of man gloves.
By early June – when the daytime temperatures start rising above 40 degrees – you finally see your neighbors again. And there are some people you see a lot more in the summertime. Our neighborhood, for example, is fairly tightly-knit. And sort of tightly-wound. We have quite a few do-it-yourself neighbors, whose houses are perpetually in need of repair. These repairs are not necessarily apparent to the naked eye. But their naked chests are. And that makes sense. Because painting window trim – much like gutter cleaning, lawn mowing, and car washing – would be WAY too hot in a t-shirt.
We also see quite a bit more of our retired neighbors in the summer. Unlike the DIY community, retired folks don’t clean out their gutters shirtless. But they do a lot of yard work and particularly, lawn mowing. Some weeks, it seems, they mow the lawn every day. And this makes perfect sense. Because the birds woke them up at 4am. And they already played Sudoku, and stuck their flag on the porch. Now they have nothing else to do.
But the place we really see people in the summertime is at the neighborhood pool. At first, that can be quite a cultural shift. I mean, think about it. For six months of the year, everyone in Wisconsin is dressed up like Sasquatch, trying to pretend they look sexy in animal hats. Then suddenly, the pool opens and the remaining snow melts, and boom -- all of your neighbors are standing around on the pool deck. Half naked. Or sitting around on pool chairs reading their NPR summer book club picks. Half naked. Or worst case scenario: showering themselves off on the pool deck. Half naked.
Showering on the pool deck is totally normal. In fact, I believe it’s officially encouraged. Because the pool is a pristine aquatic environment, in which fecal matter never oozes out of swim diapers . Random lost ducks never poop. No kid ever contracts skin warts. And no small child – or grown adult – ever urinates. So rinse it off, neighbors. Nobody wants your skin germs.
Still, people should know that -- whether you have a swim suit on or not -- showering is kind of an intimate act. There’s nothing wrong with a quick rinse. But taking a long shower on the pool deck in front of everyone – with soap, and shampoo, and a commitment to full body cleansing -- can be a bit much for the neighbors.
When I say “the neighbors,” I am obviously not talking about myself. I totally don’t mind when people shower on the pool deck. Because I look awesome when I wash my hair. Besides, it’s too late for me to worry about overexposure at the pool. I’ve had incidents. Like the time I dove into the pool, and lost my entire my bikini top. To this day, I worry about that young lifeguard, and hope he’s not still having nightmares.
Then there was the time, shortly after we moved here, when I sat in a pool chair for several minutes -- chatting with one of my neighbors -- before I realized that I hadn’t actually changed into my swimsuit. Objectively speaking, there’s nothing wrong with not changing into your swimsuit. As long as you don’t remove your outer clothing either. Unfortunately, that was not my situation.
If my neighbor noticed that I was sitting in the pool chair -- in my underwear -- he said nothing. And this was very polite of him. But I also learned a valuable lesson that day. Which is that if you hate shorts so much that you have to remove them – urgently, at the pool, without a swimsuit underneath -- it’s best to wear bikinis. Because that would’ve been so much more embarrassing in a lacey thong.
But I do love the pool. And that is fortunate. Because -- between early June and early August -- I spend almost every waking moment there. There are a lot of reasons for that. But if this were a back-to-school essay -- about "how I spent my summer" -- I’d say that there were four main reasons why I spent most of it (OK, all of it) at the pool.
1. THE POOL IS FOR SWIMMING, AND NOT MOSTLY FOR PEEING.
The main reason we spend so much time at the pool is that we love to swim. The pool is super close to our house. It’s a large pool, with plenty of space. And we really appreciate those things, especially because we moved here from New York.
Manhattan has many things to offer, especially in the summer. You can enjoy the hot weather. You can partake in the awesome street nightlife. You can stroll around and enjoy the fact that all of the truly rich people have fled to their summer homes. Or – if you don’t mind being musically waterboarded by ice cream trucks for between 1 and 7 hours – you can just open your windows and enjoy the fresh coastal air. Or whatever you would call "air" that is 1 part nitrogen, 1 part oxygen, 3 parts bus exhaust, and 5 parts vapors from steaming hot urine, floating up through the subway grates.
Manhattan is not a town full of community pools. Still, if anyone in that city was going to find a pool and teach his kids how to swim, it was going to be Mike. He is from a big family of swimmers, and he was determined to teach our kids how to swim from a young age. So he found pools.
When the kids were barely toddlers, Mike signed them up for swim lessons at a facility on the east side, called Asphalt Green. The pool there was packed at all hours of the day. The pool area was tiny. And the pool deck was full of throngs of urban helicopter parents who are – for the record -- much worse than suburban helicopter parents, because they have a lot more money to throw at their pretend problems.
Asphalt Green had one baby pool, which they used for baby swim lessons. Its signature feature was that it had a retractable floor, so it could accommodate various different swim levels. There was something very Manhattan about going across town to a swimming facility with the word Asphalt in the name, and throwing your toddler into an automated self-deepening baby pool. It was like, the Gravitron version of swim lessons. Halfway through the lesson – right about the time that the toddlers had gotten comfortable -- they’d yank out the bottom so the children could no longer stand. Instead, they’d just start to cry.
Our daughter didn’t love it. But she did learn some swimming basics before she was 3-years old. And as we discovered, Asphalt Green was a much better than the public pool in Central Park.
The public pool is a good option for anyone in Manhattan, who’s stuck in town every hot summer weekend, and doesn’t have enough money to buy a summer home in Long Island. So that is another way of saying that the public pool is a good option for a bunch of overheated, pissed off people, from all different walks of life, who can’t swim. We tried that public pool on only occasion, because we wanted to give the kids a chance to play in the water without the bottom dropping out of the pool. We never went back.
One reasons was, it was extremely crowded, and the locker room was filthy. The other reason was that the woman sitting next to me in the baby pool – loudly, and without any shame whatsoever -- instructed her young child to come over to the pool, sit down on the edge of it, and use it as a toilet. I guess she didn't like the locker rooms either.
But NOT COOL, LADY. Everyone knows that pools are for swimming. You can only pee if you don’t tell anyone.
2. MY KIDS DO EVERYTHING AT THE POOL (WHILE I DO NOTHING).
Another awesome thing about the suburban neighborhood pool is that it offers a lot of activities, very close to home. Like swim team. And swim lessons. And water ballet. And summer theater, which doesn’t take place in the pool but in an adjacent building. My kids – who love to swim in any pool that doesn’t auto-convert into a sinkhole – feel really at home there.
Since the kids are there all the time, I am there all the time. I know that my kids are probably old enough to participate in many of their pool activities without me sitting there, waiting for them. But they like having me nearby. And I like being there in case they need me. And I have separation issues. And also, let’s face it. I pretty much live through my children.
There’s a part of me that knows I shouldn't admit that. Telling everyone that I shuttle my kids to summer activities all day – and then sit around doing nothing, while they complete these activities -- probably makes me sound like either a tiger mother, a helicopter parent, or some depressing old woman with broken dreams who just wants everyone to see her underwear.
But honestly, I don’t think it’s that big a secret. For one thing, this town is too small to have secrets. That is why – on any given day at the pool – you can walk in and get the latest on who’s cheating on their spouse, who’s openly swinging with their neighbors, or who has just started dating their family dentist, who just split up with their family veterinarian, who is herself in a brand new relationship with their divorce lawyer.
Chance are, all of these people belong to the pool.
The point is, my pool-icoptering parenting is already obvious to anyone who regularly sees me at the pool at both 8 o’clock in the morning and 8 o’clock at night. The fact that those people are also there -- seeing me at the pool -- does make it hard for them to judge me. But for the record: I do go home in the middle of the day. Sometimes to feed my cats. Sometimes to put away groceries. Sometimes, to offer my kids a lunch that isn’t either: a bagel with cream cheese, OR a concessions grilled cheese sandwich made with wonder bread, American cheese, and about 2 sticks of hydrogenated margarine.
But I definitely stop by the house. At least once. I have to. Because otherwise, I’d have no way to dump the leftover coffee from my coffee thermos, and fill it with white wine spritzer for my evening pool shift.
3. THE POOL IS A PARTY.
Another reason we love the pool is that there are always lots of people there. And I don’t just mean the exhibitionist shower people. And the middle-aged swinger people.
First of all, there is the incredibly energetic pool staff. They are, it must be said, the heart and soul of the pool. The kids look up to them. The parents appreciate them. They teach hundreds of kids how to swim, with a smile on their face. They spend even more time at the pool than I do. And they are actually working, rather than playing Words on their iPhones. And yet, they never seem tired. Just more energized. And tan.
There are also a lot of other children at the pool, for my kids to play with. On any given day, they might have an awesome jumping contest off the diving boards. They might sit on the pool deck and play cards. Or they might just knock off a quick game of Marco Polo. And why not? Marco Polo would want it that way.
Many days, we plan family picnics at the pool. These are great because there is nothing to clean up at home. Oftentimes, there is also nothing to eat. The adults just drink gin and tonics, and the kids just eat a whole bunch of Laffy Taffy, and then go home.
The pool is also great for meeting new people. That is true, even if you live in your hometown and your “new” friends are actually people you went to high school with. Or people your siblings went to high school with. Or people you went to elementary school with. Or people who are the grown children of people your parents used to work with, and whose house you used to visit every holiday season for a cupcake decorating party. Yes, I’m looking at you, Scott McKinney.
Occasionally, I do meet real new people at the pool. Sometimes a third party introduces us. Sometimes I introduce myself to a perfect stranger. Usually, this happens because I’ve just stolen their pool chair, and I’m trying to make it seem like an innocent mistake. Even if we become friends, I don't give it back.
Sometimes I meet them when we’re both volunteering for a swim meet, and a parent from another team comes over to scream at us because their kid was late for the relay. And that is a real bonding experience. Because nothing brings helicopter parents together more than an even crazier helicopter parent.
In any case, the pool is a fun social scene. There are a lot of friendly and familiar faces. In that sense, it’s a lot like a party barge. Or a booze cruise. Or Melrose Place. Except we live in suburban Wisconsin. And most of the people don’t look like Heather Locklear. Probably because we eat a lot more grilled cheese sandwiches.
4. THE POOL IS HOT (AND LAKES ARE NOT).
On hot summer days, pools can get very hot. That is particularly true if you’ve been sitting there all day, and you’ve only left once to exercise, and once to fill your coffee thermos with wine.
But that’s just how pools are designed. They’re built in populated residential areas. There’s no ocean breeze at a pool. Or even, wind. There’s just a lot of heat-radiant concrete, a bunch of dark colored pool chairs, and like, one working Gatorade machine.
Personally, I don’t mind being hot. In fact, I like it. I don’t like being too hot but then, that’s what sunscreen -- and swimming -- is for. Also, I refuse to complain about the heat in the summer because summer here is basically only two months long. For some of that time, it’s cool and rainy. By the end of June, the days are already getting shorter again -- a fact which really depresses my sister, every single time I repeat it to her.
So as soon as pool opens – as long as the temperature is above 40 degrees -- I don’t run for shade. Or turn up the air. I adopt the survival mantra of a lizard:
Lie perpendicular to the sun and expand rib cage.
Convert food to body mass.
Find mate and reproduce.
No. Wait. Not that. This:
Lay down on a hot rock (or pool chair).
Warm up blood.
Sometimes I feel like a lot of people in Wisconsin don’t really like hot weather. I haven’t taken a survey on this issue. But when push comes to shove, I think people prefer being outdoors when it’s cool. Like when they can hang out on a motor boat and ski. Or drive to the north woods and sit in the shade. Or tool around on a pontoon boat, in the middle of a breezy lake, holding onto a beer koozie.
If you don’t know what a beer koozie ( pronounced “cozy”) is, then you are probably an east coast snob who drinks beer from a glass. Or maybe you are a country/western music fan who drinks beer from a big red Solo cup. But in Wisconsin, you should know that normal people drink beer from a bottle. And to keep it cool and dry, they wrap their beer bottles up tightly in secure, neoprene man gloves, otherwise known as beer koozies.
Of course they do. You can’t expect people who sit in a makeshift wooden huts in the middle of a lake in the wintertime -- cutting circles in the ice -- to go outside in the summer with a lukewarm bottle of beer. Imagine the mindset of a guy who’s outside grilling his meat, or simply relaxing on the back porch of his north woods cabin, watching a raccoon poop in his tool shed. It’s over 40 degrees? It’s humid outside? And now, my beer bottle is sweating? Get me a new beer. Or better yet, just cancel summer. That shit is uncomfortable.
When I was a kid, we didn’t belong to a pool. Back then, membership was limited to people who lived in certain neighborhoods. And we didn’t live in them. Also, we lived on a lake. And one body of water was enough for my family. That is particularly true because my mom was deathly afraid of swimming. Which she pretty much equated with drowning. So she wasn’t about to spend extra money to let her kids drown in a pool, when there was a perfectly good lake to drown in, right next to our house.
So I understand the Midwestern love of the north woods. And nature. And lakes. It’s super pretty up north, if you don’t mind dodging the runaway trailers of Illinois drivers on the way. And lakes are awesome. Our lake was lovely and full of natural wildlife, too, like fish and turtles and ducks. Even back then, it was also full of algae and seaweed. Some years, the seaweed was so long and thick that it was hard to tell the difference between swimming, and being eaten by a predatory octopus.
Back in the 1970’s, the town elders addressed the seaweed problem by filling the lake with toxic herbicides. And this may have been problematic. But they did warn us before they dumped it in, by posting a sign on our neighbor’s pier:
NO SWIMMING FOR 24 HOURS.
We were never totally sure that 24 hours was long enough. But our neighbor’s pier was at least 10 feet away from ours. And we wanted to swim. So, we figured: How far could toxic chemicals really float?
We didn’t have a super busy schedule of activities on the lake. We didn’t have swim lessons. Or swim team. Or water ballet. When I was a little kid, we didn’t even have a motor boat, or water skis. The main things in our boathouse were: a sailboat, a canoe, a bunch of life vests, and an old tire that my dad had to clean out every spring, because the ice fisherman used to poop in it.
In many ways, living on the lake was great. We spent a lot of time swimming off the pier, or floating around on inner tubes. Sometimes we went down to the beach, which -- by some toxicological miracle -- was totally free of seaweed. And we had some good times in that canoe. To this day, I have very strong arms, and I believe the canoe is partially responsible for that. And now, my own kids enjoy going to my parents house, taking rides on the pontoon boat, and swimming in the lake.
But having grown upon a lake, I guess I don’t feel the need to spend a lot more time on it. Now that I’m older -- and after living so long in the city -- I’m not as drawn to natural settings. I’m too lazy to drive several hours every weekend to a cabin. And after a long winter, I don’t really want to go anywhere to cool off. Like, ever.
I’m not saying I like sweaty beer. I do not. But you can't have glass containers at the pool anyway. And I really don’t mind sweating. And hey -- if I start getting too hot, I can always jump in the pool. Or just grab a bar soap and rinse off, right there on the pool deck.