We recently joined a local gym that has a terrific kids pool that’s three-feet deep—Henry can stand and feel brave, it’s easy to keep Silas above the surface—and has lots of fun pool toys. This pool happens to be adjacent to the gym’s lap pool, which is regularly where you’ll find extreme athletes working out in groups and alone. To say these people take their athletics seriously is an understatement.
Boulder is full of people like this, and sometimes as a mom who’s had two babies, a person (ok, me) can feel a little fat by comparison.
But this post isn’t about me. This post is about Lucy, the little girl who was 9 or 10 and was playing in the kiddie pool last weekend while Jeff and I swam with our boys. Shortly after we arrived, we watched Lucy’s mom set her up at the pool and then join a group of swimmers doing a big, splashy workout.
Left to her own devices, Lucy was a dolphin mermaid. She did somersaults around a beach ball. Donned a snorkeling mask and flippers. Raced from one end of the pool to the other. In a word, she was awesome. She was lithe and cheerful, and she started playing with Henry, so I fell in love with her.
Then a man arrived. I noticed Lucy notice him.
He looked like his day job was as a Calvin Klein model. Motorcycle helmet tucked beneath his arm. He dropped his bag on a nearby table, stripped to his European-style swim mankini (these Athletes do not swim in trunks), and began slathering sunscreen over his sculpted body. He was one of those ageless hot guys who could have been 25 or 55.
Lucy jumped out of the pool with a huge smile and a foam noodle full of water and unleashed it on him.
And then he unleashed on her.
“What the hell are you doing, you dumb bitch?” he seethed.
She frowned and looked at the ground.
“Goddammit. Now I’m soaked.”
No mention that he was about to jump in the POOL.
Lucy slithered away, but he wasn’t done.
“You’re nothing but a stupid little girl.”
I realized I was staring, mouth agape. Who talks to a kid like that? I was furious, but at a loss of what to do. I didn’t know their relationship, didn’t want to aggravate the confrontation. He looked up and saw me staring, and then he lit in on her again.
“You’re such a pain. Now I can’t get my sunscreen to stick. It’s going to be your fault if I burn.”
Lucy had turned her back on him and found a pool chair on the deck. She lowered the chair so it was flat and lay down on her stomach. The dickhead finally shut up and went swimming.
I walked over to her and, not knowing what to do, introduced myself. That’s when she told me her name.
I asked her if she knew that guy, and then, not waiting for an answer, I told her that he was wrong. She wasn’t a dumb bitch or a stupid little girl. I said that I thought she was awesome and that my kids thought she was, too. I said not to worry about what that guy said.
At this point, I assumed the guy was someone she knew, but not closely. An older friend of her parents, perhaps. After all, only a childless prick would EVER speak so cruelly to a young girl, right?
“Who was that guy anyway?” I asked.
Lucy looked at me with the most neutral expression in the world.
I’m still sick about it. It doesn’t take a child psychologist to know that growing up with verbal abuse like that will knock a kid’s self esteem down. If Lucy hears now how she’s just a “stupid little girl,” what’s she going to do in High School when some boy tells her she has to do what he wants her to because she’s just a dumb bitch? Will she believe him?
In that moment, Lucy’s father—an athletic icon, the kind of guy who a lot of people probably admire if only because he’s muscular and fit—became a stand in for all the asshole, self-centered people who should never become parents. I could give a shit what his VO2 Max is. The guy is a jerk who should never have spoken to his daughter that way.
I still don’t know what the right thing to do or say would have been. Have any of you ever been in a situation like this? What would you have done?