I was sitting under an umbrella at the pool last weekend, chatting aimlessly with friends and watching the kids splash and play, when an unsettling realization hit me.
"You know, we're really going to miss this one day, when the kids are big and there's no good excuse to hang around at the pool all summer," I told my husband. "These days at the pool are what we'll remember."
Jim nodded and started doing the math. "How long have we been coming here?" he asked. "Ten years?"
I counted it off on my fingers (which is the English-major way to figure this stuff out). "This is our 11th summer," I said. "We started coming here the year Jack was 2. "
Jack is 12 years old, and heading for seventh grade. Jack is almost 5 feet tall, and Jack can do a flip off the diving board, and Jack can sit in the front seat of the car while we run errands.
When we joined the pool, Jack was a skinny, toddling, only child who spent his summer afternoons cautiously splashing in the fenced confines of the kiddie pool with me, his nervous mom, always within arm's reach.
Now Jack and his 7-year-old brother, Ben, rocket away from us as soon as we're through the gate, joining their friends in games of monkey-in-the-middle and diving-board competitions. Ben has never been cautious, and both boys are at home in the water in a way that reflects a lifetime of swim lessons and careful coaching by their water-obsessed father. So we watch them, except when we don't.
"Where are the boys?" I sometimes ask Jim, blinking groggily after a sun-induced nap on a deck chair.
"Over there," he says, gesturing vaguely to the mass of laughing, indistinguishable children churning up the water.
I am convinced this particular pool is enchanted. It's tucked away on a ridge in Stuart Heights, just north of downtown, and it has all the very coolest pool stuff: a snack bar, two diving boards, tennis courts, lifeguards who know every kid by name, Friday night fundraiser cookouts and a really terrific swim team.
This pool was built in the 1950s, and it's frozen in time -- a sweet little slice of simple pleasure. But it's also one of our surest measures of the passage of time.
For generations of families, it's been the hub of summer. It's a place where you hear parents playing with their kids and telling them about the summers they spent playing here as kids, too.
"We had some trouble getting the invoices mailed out this year," the president of the pool's board told me as we chatted at the edge of the water last weekend. "Did you get yours?"
I laughed. "We got it," I said, "but you know these people would be lined up at the gate every year, invoice or no invoice. We'd pay our dues in cash at the snack bar if we had to."
I recently spotted a young family splashing in the pool and leaned over to ask my husband, "Who is that woman? She looks so familiar."
He considered briefly, and then his flawless social memory delivered the information: "Oh, she was a lifeguard here years ago, when we first joined. Actually," he added, gesturing to her husband, "so was he."
The friends and families who have passed so many summers together in and around that pool have formed a community that counts on these days to catch up, hang out and reflect on the year.
During the spring and fall and winter, we're all in touch intermittently -- through Facebook, at the park, at birthday parties and occasional dinners. We send holiday cards and emails and texts.
But as Memorial Day approaches each year, you can nearly feel the hum of excitement as we all count down to opening day, as we all anticipate spending another summer at the pool, reflecting together on how much has changed -- and how little.
Contact Mary Fortune at thirtytensomething.blogspot.com.