Earlier in the year, I jokingly made a promise to the 7-8 age group on our swim team. The best-behaved lane during practice that day would get a prize: the chance to wash Coach Sean's car. Most of them groaned, but the "winning" lane was still proud of having been best-behaved. I didn't think of it again until the next day, when a little girl named "Natasha" arrived at practice and asked, "So did you bring a bucket? Do you have sponges?"
I am nearing the end of my six-week contract coaching a local swim team. Tonight was my second-to-last swim meet with them, which is a shame because many of the children are smart, cute, kind, and/or endearing. And adoring. My next job will not likely feature groups of people greeting me with excited shouts and frantic cannonballs off the side of the pool. It might be appropriate for me to still hug my co-workers at my new job, but I certainly wouldn't have the freedom to mess up their hair, give them bizarre nicknames, or throw them over the lane ropes. I certainly won't be able to get them to recite rhymes about proper backstroke technique ("High in the air I lift my pinkie/ So that my backstroke won't be stinky"). Or count off for calisthenics in Angry French, or Sad Spanish ("Uno. (sniff) Dos. (whimper) Tres.").
Kids are much more fun than adults. Today, a few of the boys made forts out of abandoned cardboard boxes, and announced that they were "hobos." Whenever I walked by to say something, one would invariably yell, "Get off my lawn!" They kept this up for the entirety of the meet, leaving only to swim their races and panhandle snack bar money from their parents.
I will also miss the opportunity to lie constantly. Our meet tonight was extremely cold, but I just had on a T-shirt and shorts. Parka-clad youngsters would ask if I was cold, and I would tell them calmly that coaches didn't get cold. And, since they all had to swim in their suits, it would be unfair if I got to wear a sweatshirt. Natasha recently lost both her front teeth. I told her that her mouth would be more aerodynamic that way, so she needed to take advantage and swim fast before the new teeth grew in. The kids don't really believe me, but it's fun for everyone. Is it really acceptable to be teasing everyone you encounter in the adult world?
Then there's little Ashley. Monday, she hid from her mom inside our pool's waterslide, betrayed only by her tiny shadow. Tonight, she said goodbye to me with a large hug. I said, "Ashley, that was a great hug." She replied, "That's because it was a bay-oh hug, Sean!"
When you have a job working with children, you develop a bond with them, where you feel like they're your kids a little bit. Not so much like you're their parents, even though they accidentally call you "Dad" on occasion, but more like you're their older cousin, or wacky bachelor uncle. You don't feel like you're just an employee, at least, which is why it is painful to be made to feel like one. (See "Legal trouble for Zembla") Here, it was just the circumstances of my six-week contract reminding me of my transitory bond with the children.
Natasha came up to me after the meet to show me her newly-emerging front teeth. She gave me a hug, then cocked her head to one side. "So, am I ever going to see you again, Coach Sean?" she asked. "Sure," I told her. At least once more, I didn't say.