On Saturday, we took our kids to Sea Breeze, our fair city’s old-fashioned, reasonably sized amusement park where a bottle of diet Pepsi costs $3.50.
My kids are tall enough to go on all the rides, but Ella cannot be coaxed on to one. Her singular focus is the wave pool, which (for the uninitiated) is a large pool that manifests sizable waves every fifteen minutes or so according to a strict and unyielding schedule. One knows the waves are coming thanks to a large honking noise followed by squeals of delight from both young and old. People totally lose their crap during wave time.
Anyway, John accompanies the kids on the Tilt-a-Whirl, the roller coasters, the bumper cars, and the crazy ship ride where everyone goes upside down while Ella and I head off to the water park. This arrangement suits me fine. Most amusement park rides make me want to hurl, so I’m perfectly happy to sit my butt down in a sub-par lounge chair and read a book while Ella frolics in the water.
Ella has become a rather emboldened swimmer. Last year, she lingered in the shallow end of the wave pool. This year, she ventured to the other side, the deeper side, the side where the dads get yelled at for putting their kids on their shoulders. (The wave pool has a lot of rules.) Naturally, I was nervous when the first long honk announced the oncoming waves. I had visions of Truman fighting for his life as the maniacal Ed Harris character concocts a giant storm in his own fabricated wave pool (albeit a much larger one). I kept waiting for Ella to go under and not come back up. But Ella bobbed up and down with each wave like she was a professional wave-pool bobber. She went under the water… and bobbed back up. Under… bobbed back up. After this happened a sufficient number of times, I felt relaxed enough to allow the 20-plus lifeguards to take over the watch. I opened my book.
Not only is Ella adept at bobbing waves, but she also has a knack for making friends whenever she is in the water. It should be noted that on dry ground, Ella struggles socially. Her language disability and social immaturity make it hard for her to make friends her own age. At school, at church, on the playground, I see the same reaction when she interacts with her peers: girls glance at one another and raise their eyebrows. Ella knows she is different, but she can’t quite put her finger on why.
In the water, for whatever reason, Ella is uninhibited socially. Perhaps it’s because conversation in the water is limited to “Follow me!” or “Let’s dive!” Perhaps it’s because Ella is a stronger swimmer than a lot of girls her age, and that in itself commands a certain amount of respect. Perhaps it’s because it’s too noisy to do anything but play, physically play, with one another. Whatever the reason, my daughter makes friends in the water.
She makes friends at the beach. A few weeks ago, I watched my mermaid child emerge from Lake Ontario holding hands with another girl. They walked up and stood in front of me with shivering knobby knees and dripping wet hair, and Ella asked,
“Mom, can she come home with me?”
“Pleeease can she?”
“And what’s your friend’s name?” I asked. Ella turned to her.
“What’s your name?”
At the YMCA, I can drop Ella off to swim while I work out. I go upstairs to the long line of elliptical machines that overlook the swimming pool. I choose a spot where I know Ella can see me and I watch her play, waiting for the moment she becomes upset so I can get downstairs fast. That time has yet to come. At the Y, Ella throws a ball around with a couple of boys. She does handstands under water and floats on her back and laughs and splashes with a group of girls around her own age. When I go to retrieve her, she begs for five more minutes, and then five more minutes after that.
At the wave pool, despite the impressive fleet of lifeguards who perform their duties with militaristic dedication, my eyes skim the water every 30 seconds or so for Ella. Even from afar and among a crowd, I quickly recognize her. I recognize her by way her blond hair clumps together in the water. I recognize the slopes of her shoulders, golden from hours of playing in the summer sunshine. The cadence of her spring and the graceful fluidity of her movements beneath each wave. Her gangly, ever-moving arms. I can see her smiling with her back turned to me. I know she is laughing by the way her body shakes. She is laughing with a friend she made in the water.
Summer is ending and she will go back to school. I looked into water schools, but alas, there are none in our area. That sun-bleached hair will soon be tucked under a winter hat. As the days get shorter, I will pray fervently that she will have someone to sit with at lunch time. That she will laugh at least once during the day. I will pray that she’ll learn to be as happy in real life as she is when she is in the water.